EAST Lancashire's business chief says a skills barrier is holding the region back.

Miranda Barker, chief executive of the East Lancs Chamber of Commerce, said manufacturers across the area are crying out for skilled workers as order books fill up.

And she said that its practical skills and not necessarily academic achievement that employers are looking for as they look for the next generation of skilled staff.

She said: "Skills is a real barrier at the moment. If you ask me what is holding back our manufacturers from the next level, it is skills.

"Every single manufacturer will say its skills that is holding us back. It's not work. The work is there. What they need is six engineers by the end of the week.

"It's the skills that is the constraint now. We have more work than we know what to do with so we need more skilled employees.

"And that doesn't necessarily mean university educated, but it could be getting bright young engineers in at 16 and 18.

"Mark Crabtree of AMS Neve is a hugely successful man. He's won two Oscars. But he doesn't want to see GCSEs when he's looking for apprenticeships. He wants to talk to them and find out about them.

"He wants the kids who has been taking things apart and putting them back together for years. He is interested in finding the right person not if you can pass an exam.

"Businesses want a capability assessment, they don't want an academic grade. They are crying out for alternate, practical routes for education. If they didn't pass a maths qualification, but they can use maths in a practical situation then they can succeed."

And Miss Barker said that the apprenticeship levy is causing some businesses a problem. The levy is a tax on employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million at a rate of 0.5 per cent of their total pay bill, which goes into a pot to help fund apprenticeship training programmes.

She added: "The apprenticeship levy is not helping at the moment because businesses are finding it hard to get their head around."

And she added that the chamber was working to help businesses through the maze.

"It's complicated and feels like a tax," she said. "Some firms just pay the tax and get on with business, which they will always do if things are complicated but it hasn't sorted itself out quickly enough.

"We are working hard with businesses to get good examples to get good examples of how you can really use it."