The Black Country is the 'bedrock' of British manufacturing and its expertise must never be forgotten, the Duke of York has declared.
During a visit to the Express & Star, Prince Andrew gave his royal seal of approval to the Ladder for the Black Country campaign to create new apprenticeships, declaring it a 'local solution' to a national youth unemployment problem.
"The Black Country has been at the centre of manufacturing right from the get-go of the industrial revolution," he said in an exclusive interview.
"It has not lost that position - it has perhaps felt it is forgotten.
"But it must never forget it has been that bedrock and has that knowledge, has that experience, and it has that capability."
His Royal Highness is the patron of the Ladder for the Black Country campaign which is urging businesses to take on an apprentice and for young people to grab the opportunity of a paid work-based training scheme.
The campaign has got off to a flying start, creating 100 jobs in just seven days.
The Black Country has the worst rates of youth unemployment in the country - with more than 8,000 18-24 year olds in the dole queues each and every week.
But His Royal Highness said that it was the people in the region who were fighting to solve the problem for themselves.
He added: "I believe that if we are going to be a prosperous country we are going to need to encourage the skills that are required to do that.
"I believe here is just as an important as any other part of the country but that here you are a local area with a local solution for a national problem.
"By being a cohesive set of towns and cities you are able to provide a solution that is key for its own immediate culture and environment, and that is vitally important.
"I am a firm believer you can solve the problem for the nation by doing it locally and the Black Country is very important for that."
At the Express & Star's Wolverhampton office, the Duke met young people looking for an apprenticeship, current apprentices, and business leaders that run successful apprenticeship programmes or who are interested in taking on apprentices.
He also met those behind the Ladder for the Black Country including Kevin Davis, chief executive of Walsall-based charity the Vine Trust, Rob Colbourne of training provider Performance Through People, Black Country Chamber of Commerce chief executive Margaret Corneby, Express & Star deputy editor Diane Davies, and Simon Neilson of Walsall Council.
He also dismissed claims that apprenticeships were for those who failed at school and he said the current school system 'discouraged' young people from leaving school to seek work.
During his visit he also called on teachers in the region to actively promote the apprenticeship route and in a passionate plea to parents, he highlighted their key role in getting the message across that apprenticeships could change their children's lives.
Prince Andrew's royal seal of approval is just the start for the Ladder for the Black Country.
Businesses small, medium and large are being asked to consider taking on an apprentice.
So far Accord Group, Walsall Housing Group, In Touch With Walsall, Ikea and Goodchilds Estate Agents and Lettings have joined the call to action.
Young people interested in apprenticeships and businesses looking to take on apprentices can call the Ladder for Black Country hotline on 0333 2409 699 or go to ladderfortheblackcountry.co.ukSubscribe to our Newsletter