FERGUSON Marine's boss has pledged that protecting hundreds of skilled jobs at the firm's Port Glasgow shipyard is 'top of the list' of his priorities moving forward.

Speaking exclusively to the Telegraph, CEO David Tydeman acknowledged that working in the industry is 'not a lifetime career any more' with a growing number of people moving away from the 'dying art'.

And while he said some 'back office' roles may be cut over the coming years as the yard seeks to diversify its output, the welders, platers, general labourers and apprentices will continue to have a future on site as new contracts - including a link-up with BAE Systems and possible further deals with ferry operators - are secured.

The head of FMPG said: "We have 320 on the payroll at the moment: 80 salaried and 240 trade skills.

"If I look ahead to two years time and assume we've got small ferries and BAE working together, we'll need 300 people. We'll need a different mix - less in the design office but we'll protect the trade skills.

"The fundamental objective is to protect the trade skills, protect the apprentices, try and protect the 200-odd jobs, but I might shrink the back office.

"Top of the list is to try and protect [trade skills]."

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Fifteen first-year apprentices are set to start at the yard in August and Mr Tydeman said promoting recruitment from younger age groups will continue to be an important focus.

He said: "It's more than just something that's nice to hav, it's essential.

"If you look at the age profile of the yard we've got within the 300 staff 50-60 apprentices and at the other end of the age profile I've got 100 people who are over 60. They'll be retiring at some time over the next five or 10 years.

"The gap in the middle, between 25 and 55, that's where our biggest gap is. We've got this complex agenda where a lot of the trade skills are either young or old.

"We all recognise that it's hard to attract apprentices and say to them 'do you imagine just being a welder for the rest of your life'. People want more variety.

"You've got to feed that pipeline, you've got to keep investing in apprentices and that training programme.

"We've got to be flexible compared with where we were in the past. It's not a lifetime career any more."

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As the current CalMac contract approaches its conclusion, fresh opportunities for Ferguson's are on the horizon and Mr Tydeman is hoping his team can move on from the much-maligned episode into a prosperous next chapter.

He said: "We've spent the last year planning for [Hull 802] to be different, so my expression here is 'let's think of that as the start of the future, rather than the end of the problem'.

"We can't change the process on 801 [Glen Sannox], we can be proud of the ship eventually, but if we can be at least proud of the ship and the process as we put this one [Hull 802] together over the next 12 months that'll be a big first step."