One of the region’s largest automotive manufacturers is about to launch a brand new production line.

But it won’t be car parts for global giants like Nissan and Renault rolling out of this state of the art facility, it will be the future of the North East manufacturing industry.

The Unipres Training Academy will be officially opened next week by MP for Washington and Sunderland West, Sharon Hodgson, in a ceremony attended by business and civic leaders, as well as a host of former and current apprentices.

Mrs Hodgson said: “Unipres is an integral player in our automotive industry and I have been incredibly impressed with the company’s focus on apprenticeships and proactive approach to developing its future workforce.

“This Training Academy is equipped with the exact machinery, software and processes that are used across the company and much of the industry, so the recruits produced at this fantastic new facility will be work-ready and raring to go.”

At its peak, the facility will support well over 100 apprentices a year, including new and existing staff. This investment complements the many specialist short courses offered to employees and will be available to other automotive suppliers in the region.

Unipres Plant Operation Director, John Cruddace said: “There are young people out there who slip through the cracks of education – the ones that might struggle a bit academically, but have the ability to develop manual skills that firms like ours are crying out for.

“We also want to capture those young people and offer them a chance to be trained up and gain qualifications and hopefully a skilled job at the end of it.”

Unipres is launching its new Academy in National Apprenticeship Week, during which it has arranged a host of events, including working with Northern Saints Church of England Primary School on a Primary Engineer project, hosting a careers fair and utilising its Industrial Cadets for an event with secondary schools to introduce them to employment opportunities available in engineering.

The firm has so far invested over half a million pounds in the new Academy, which is based at Washington Business Centre, just around the corner from its Sunderland plant.

Councillor Harry Trueman, who spoke at the launch event about the city’s pride at all that Unipres has achieved, said: “Unipres is a truly forward-thinking company and the work that they are doing to grow their own talent really is testament to this.

“It was an absolute honour to be part of the official opening of their Training Academy and to continue to support the company as they grow their footprint in the city.  The fact they have once again invested in Sunderland is a real vote of confidence for the area and great news for future generations.”

Sue Husband, director of the National Apprenticeship Service said: “There’s no better week than during National Apprenticeship Week for this fantastic initiative to be launched. It is great news for any company taking action to not only cover its own future employment and skills needs, but also those of its potential suppliers and customers.

“Unipres are taking a positive and proactive approach to producing the skills they need to drive the growth of manufacturing and engineering in the North East and academies like this are vital to achieve just that. I would like businesses to follow Unipres’ lead and take the most progressive approach they can to ‘grow their own’ and utilise the fantastic benefits apprenticeships bring to business.”

Since arriving in Sunderland in 1987, Unipres has invested £180 million in its plant. Just last year, two new presses at the Sunderland facility went live in a £13m investment scheme.

Maureen Askew has been appointed senior controller at the Unipres Training Academy. She said: “This is a wonderful opportunity for me, but an even better one for the learners who walk through our doors. They are not only going to be trained on the exact equipment used in the plant, but also be instructed and mentored by some of the most experienced employees at Unipres.”

Unipres has announced a partnership with Sunderland College, that will see a commitment from the two organisations to work together to meet future skills needs.

The agreement is to explore new ways of bringing through future employees, with companies across the country now gearing up for the introduction of the apprenticeship levy.  Unipres and the College will work together to recruit new talent via a pre-employment programme, developing new and existing staff through apprenticeships, and training for Unipres employees.

Ellen Thinnesen, principal and chief executive at the college, said: “The company’s approach to the new apprenticeship levy is refreshing; this is a business embracing change, and using the benefits of Government policy to strengthen workforce development now and in the coming years; like Sunderland College, Unipres is ambitious for the future. The partnership could not be better suited.”