THE BOSS of an offshore construction yard has warned he may have to recruit foreign workers because he cannot find enough skilled tradesmen in Britain's worst unemployment blackspot.
Steve Keyworth, managing director of South Shields-based McNulty's Offshore Contractors, is struggling to find welders, pipe-fitters and electricians in South Tyneside, where nearly one in four people is on the dole.
A typical welder on the Tyne earns an annual salary of £25,000 for a 40-hour week, with the opportunity to boost his salary with overtime.
Government figures show that, out of 72,000 people of working age in South Tyneside, 16,000 are claiming job seekers' allowance or incapacity benefit.
Mr Keyworth blamed the problem on a lack of Government investment in training schemes.
McNulty's currently employs around 800 workers, who are finishing an order for a 250-man accommodation block for the Kasahagan oil field in the Caspian Sea.
Later this month, a massive floating oil production vessel called the Global Producer III will arrive for an upgrade, which will raise the yard's workforce to 1,000.
Mr Keyworth said: 'South Tyneside is one of Britain's biggest unemployment blackspots, yet I can't get trades to man the current projects. The skills shortages involve welders, pipe-fitters and electricians.
If nothing is done, we will have to resort to the use of foreign labour. From my own personal point of view, I would find that difficult to square when there are unemployed people here in South Tyneside.
'But if they have no skills, we have to look at the bigger picture to continue creating wealth for the area.'
McNulty's has trained more than 100 apprentices in the past nine years.
Mr Keyworth said: 'We have done something ourselves. We have always had apprentices but not enough to fill the gap left by the ageing workforce. It takes three years to train a welder.
'We tried to secure central Government funding to head off the current situation but it never materialised.'
A spokesman for the Governmentbacked regional development agency One North East said: 'There is recognition that we need to substantially increase the number of people going through apprenticeships to address the concerns companies like McNulty's have.'