Apprenticeships 'time bomb' for North East, warns Chamber of Commerce
North-east England faces a "ticking time bomb" due to a lack of apprentices, the head of the region's Chamber of Commerce has said.
The number of new apprenticeships in the region fell by about a fifth in two years, government figures show.
The drop came despite the government investing £1.4bn in apprenticeships across the UK in 2013-14.
The government said apprenticeships in the North East were up by about two thirds from five years ago.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said it was vital for the region's future that more apprentices start to come through the system.
He said: "In our engineering industry at the moment there is a real skills gap.
"We've got a ticking time bomb because we've got several thousand highly skilled workers in many of those industries who are going to retire over the next few years and we have to replace them."
David Rhodes, Political Reporter, North East and Cumbria
The North East's economic heritage is built on its industrial prowess and its ability to manufacture and extract raw materials.
Hopes for its economic future rest on building new technologies, with its current generation of enterprising engineers.
One in five jobs in the North East economy is currently estimated to be classed as a "skills based job".
With the number of apprentices declining, it poses a fundamental question.
Where will the region's next generation of enterprising engineers come from?
Figures show 30,480 people in the North East started apprenticeships in the 2013-14 academic year, compared to 38,340 in 2011-12. The number in 2009-10 was 18,510.
The government said the reason for the fall was that it had reformed apprenticeships, insisting on better training and a minimum duration of a year.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "Our insistence on quality has had an impact on numbers in the short term, but has resulted in a marked improvement in the quality of training.
"The overall number of apprenticeship starts in the North East has increased by 65% since 2009-10."