As a teenager Eddie Ward made a major decision which would influence his entire life.

With his sights firmly set on a degree in electrical engineering at Newcastle University, Eddie was offered an apprenticeship as a trainee quantity surveyor with a Carlisle construction firm.

While his fellow students at the city’s Trinity School were packing their bags for university, Eddie had to decide between pursuing life as a full-time student or going down the apprenticeship route. He chose the latter.

Now in a top position with leading Cumbrian company Northern Developments, Eddie is a firm supporter of apprenticeships as a means of keeping local talent in the area.

Carlisle born and bred, the former Trinity pupil is an example of how apprentices can rise to the top of their chosen career.

At Northern Developments, where he is now commercial manager, Eddie is involved in prestige projects including the multi-million pound test centre for M-Sport at Dovenby Hall, near Cockermouth.

“Embarking on an apprenticeship is a decision I've never regretted,” says Eddie. “I was all set to go to Newcastle University when my aunt saw this job as an apprentice quantity surveyor with Eden Construction at Durranhill in Carlisle.

“At Trinity we were encouraged to follow the university route so I had to make a big decision. I have never looked back.”

Eddie believes Cumbria suffers a skills shortage because its young people go off to university and never come back. Some even have problems getting work.

“I have seen people graduating with a degree only to find they can't get a job.

"If you do a degree while training under an apprenticeship you get the best of both worlds. As an employer I would far rather take on someone with experience rather than a degree.

“There needs to be further investment in apprenticeships. The construction industry is suffering a skills gap which sees the growth of companies hampered by an inability to fill important roles.

“There is support there for individual companies through the apprenticeship levy and it is up to them to invest in their workforce to allow them to move forward.”

Through his apprenticeship with Eden, in 1993 Eddie embarked on a five-year part-time BSc in quantity surveying travelling one day a week to the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. The other four days were spent learning his trade on the job.

From Eden, Eddie took a senior position with the Keir construction and property group before moving for another promotion to Lowther Construction at Hackthorpe near Penrith, returning after five years to Keir to progress his career.

“When the opportunity came up at Northern Developments 15 years ago I saw the chance to be part of a smaller team where you can have more influence,” he says.

“Although not a large team we deliver £10 million to £15 million projects. We are very focused which allows us to work together effectively.

“I initially joined as senior quantity surveyor before becoming commercial manager. My job gives me overall responsibility for the commercial side of the business and I line manage the on-site quantity surveyors as well as all the site managers.”

Founded by Martyn Boak in 1985, Northern Developments is behind a 220-bed student accommodation block in Aberdeen owned by Martyn's other company U-Student.

It has developed similar projects in other cities including Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Birmingham.