A leading West Cumbrian businessman is calling for more firms to help nurture young talent.

Low unemployment and a looming Brexit have exacerbated recruitment problems for many sectors in the Cumbrian economy, but Andy Hooper, managing director of Westlakes Engineering, says the solution has to be developing new recruits locally.

Mr Hooper has grown Westlakes into a successful international business with bases in Cumbria, Manchester and Preston that was named SME of the year by the civil engineering trade press.

It now has around 50 staff and continues to grow, but Mr Hooper is not subscribing to the view shared by many in Cumbria that recruitment is a headache.

“I don’t accept that it is any more difficult to recruit here than anywhere else, but you have to make the effort to do it.

“Most of the people that we bring in are new into the market so we train them up, but lots of businesses out there are recruiting staff from each other in an ever diminishing pool and they are the ones who tend to struggle,” he said.

“We have invested quite heavily in our community and provide a lot of opportunities for work experience for local students.

“We need graduates with civil structural engineering degrees so we provide summer jobs for local students at university and they tend to come back to us,” he added.

Westlakes also promotes flexible working practices and is equally adaptable when it comes to recruiting people who might need retraining.

“You’ve just got to be a bit creative about it and make the investment that some people are not prepared to make,” Mr Hooper said.

It is an approach that seems to be paying off for Westlakes which was picked out by New Civil Engineer not just as the seventh best company in its list of the top 100 for 2017, but also the best SME.

The firm may have been born out of the nuclear industry, but now works across a number of diverse sectors internationally including a lucrative niche as the go-to experts in fairground ride safety.

Its attraction safety team joined Westlakes in 2015 and last month became the first inspection body in the world to achieve accreditation from UKAS in this field.

The team travel across the world carrying out inspections at attractions including Legoland in Japan and Legoland Discovery Centres in America and other parks in South Africa, Australia and Singapore.

Westlakes has also been working on Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s much-hyped new Icon ride, due to open this spring, mainly for safety checks on the design and commissioning of the ride, including its structure, dynamics and safety envelope.

It has also been carrying out work with West Cumbria Mining on the proposed Woodhouse Colliery and continues to work in nuclear.