EXPERIENCED fabrication welders and young apprentices are being given the chance to join the workforce of a growing engineering company.

D&S Services – a multi-disciplined service supplier who delivers metal fabrication, engineering and material handling services nationally – is holding an informal event to meet, and potentially employ, time-served fabricator welders at its site in Peterlee.

And the company, which has a long-standing commitment to recruiting young talent, is also encouraging apprentices to attend.

The networking-type event is being held on August 23, from 10am to 12pm, and those who come along will get the chance to talk to company bosses and hand in a CV for consideration.

Bosses at D&S Services say they have been directly affected by the North East’s engineering skills gap, and want to do their bit to change the future of the sector.

The firm has always had apprentices at its heart, with the bulk of its 29-strong workforce having an apprenticeship background – whether that be employing school or college leavers as apprentices, or hiring newly-qualified apprentices who have completed time with other companies.

Even two of D&S Services’ co-directors, Andrew Gaskins and Mark Kelly, were apprentices at the start of their careers.

Co-director Alastair Tennant said: “We have invested heavily in apprentices over the years, we really do believe in them and are happy to invest in them for the longer term.

“Basically, taking on an apprentice means you can mould them to exactly what you want, while at the same time giving that person a specialised skills set and a future.

“However, as we have grown as a company over the years, we have noticed that the skills just aren’t there – the skills gap in the region is real and we want to continue to do our bit to change that picture by continuing with the apprenticeship positions we have always offered here.”

He added: “I do understand businesses’ fears, because first of all you’ve got to invest in them – they aren’t just a cheap resource. You’ve got to train them, and circulate them, and pay them. Here’s a big period of time in the beginning where you get very little from them, but once they have the skills you then reap the benefits.

“We would love to meet people interested in pursuing an engineering career, and this is why we’re holding this event, as a different way to meet someone who could potentially start to work for us and carve out a successful career for themselves.”

D&S Services’ proud history of apprentices includes:

 Matthew Craigs, 21, of Darlington, started at the company aged 16 on leaving school and completed a four- year apprenticeship in fabrication and welding. He is now a design technician.

He said: “I was over the moon when got given the chance of an apprenticeship at D&S Services because it meant I could earn while I learned, and I’m looking at going to university on day release to do a degree.

“Apprenticeships are just another way in, and they’re the better way in my opinion because you’re gaining experience all the time too.”

 Dale Johnston, 23, of Darlington, is also a design technician at D&S Services, joining the company after completing a three-year apprenticeship in tool making with another firm.

“A couple of months after I finished my apprenticeship I got offered a job here which was great,” he said. “It was a change from the background I was used to but I had lots of training and support to help me get to the level I am now.

“I’d definitely do an apprenticeship if I had my time again. Employers want people with experience and this is a great way to get it.”

 Dan Varty, 30, from Fishburn, started D&S Services as a fabrication welding apprentice on a four-year apprenticeship course when he was just 16-years- old.

Now with a 14-year career at the firm under his belt, he works as supervisor/production manager.

He said: “I started when the firm started and I’ve kind of grown with it. It’s a big achievement for me and I feel proud to have been here for such a long time.

“It just goes to show that apprenticeships lead to long and meaningful careers. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. I feel appreciated here and if I had my time again, I’d do exactly the same.”

 Lewis Campbell, 20, from Peterlee, started as a welding/fabrication apprentice last year. His apprenticeship is set to last for three years.

He said: “I went to college to do fitness instructing but I really didn’t like it, it wasn’t for me, so I started doing engineering, which I liked. On the last day of college my lecturer said a company called D&S Services was moving into the area and handed a CV in for me.

“A week later I was offered an apprenticeship and was able to go back to college, while working, to do a level 3 apprenticeship in engineering.”

He added: “I’m really enjoying it and I would recommend the apprenticeship route to anyone, it’s by far the best thing I’ve done.

“You’re always doing something different and there are so many different paths you can go down.”

 Tom Holt, 22, from Darlington, is an apprentice sheet metal worker who started at D&S Services in May last year, after leaving university where he was studying geology. He now does one day a week at college as part of his apprenticeship programme.

He said: “I went to uni to study geology and I found out the hard way that I wasn’t that good at it. I decided to do something I was good at and I got the apprenticeship here which I was delighted about.

“There’s absolutely no harm in taking the apprenticeship route, it’s probably better because it’s a slow learning curve.

“Plus employers want experience, so if you’re not doing that at university then it’s virtually impossible to get a job at the end.

“It’s so good to be part of a company that embraces apprenticeships.”