New £4.75m facility is home to next generation of construction staff

Image from  left to right Michael Ellis, Conservative MP for Northampton North, Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, Pat Brennan-Barrett, Principal of Northampton College, Geraldine Schofield, Chair of Governors at Northampton College and Andrew Lewer, Conservative MP for Northampton South
Image from left to right Michael Ellis, Conservative MP for Northampton North, Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, Pat Brennan-Barrett, Principal of Northampton College, Geraldine Schofield, Chair of Governors at Northampton College and Andrew Lewer, Conservative MP for Northampton South

A new state-of-the-art learning facility has been hailed as ‘the perfect place’ to tackle a severe skills shortage and build a better future for the construction industry in Northamptonshire.

Northampton College’s impressive £4.75million Advanced Construction Engineering (ACE) Centre, built at Booth Lane campus, was unveiled at an official opening on Friday 20th September. It will help train the next generation of highly skilled construction professionals including builders, plumbers and decorators and teach pioneering new techniques aimed at equipping the workforce of the future with the very latest skills.

Principal Pat Brennan-Barrett was joined by guest of honour, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom MP, fellow Northamptonshire MPs Michael Ellis and Andrew Lewer and representatives from contractors Kier and the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership, which helped fund the project through its Skills Capital Fund.

She said: “The ACE Centre is a commitment to providing the very best educational facilities for our young people, an investment in the next generation of workers and the business leaders of tomorrow.

“It is the perfect place to ensure a pipeline of highly skilled, high quality students, with the technical abilities required by the to fill the skills gap that currently exists; providing a sustainable, long term and modern workforce to the construction industry and related services.”

Alongside courses which focus on craft skills there will also be courses at Level 3 for those looking for supervisory, technician or management careers in the sector, such as in Civil Engineering, Building Services Engineering, or Project Management.

Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, said: “We’re committed to boosting economic growth across the whole of the UK and building a Britain fit for the future.

“The new Advanced Construction Engineering centre with its state-of-the-art new facilities is sure to have a lasting impact on the construction and engineering sectors of Northampton and beyond.

“The £2.25 million Local Growth Fund contribution will enable those enrolled at Northampton College to learn the pioneering new techniques and skills both they and employers need to boost our economy now and in the future.”

The centre features a revolutionary ‘Digital Lab’ featuring a Virtual Reality classroom, 3D printing facilities and industry-standard workshop equipment and will provide a pipeline of ‘work-ready’ staff for local employers, with dozens of major companies, including the likes of Kier, Bowmer & Kirkland, Metcalfe’s and the Murphy Group, already in place as recognised industry-based partners.

It will provide training opportunities for up to 350 students on full time study programmes, professional development courses for adult students and apprenticeships.

The new facilities have been designed in collaboration with leading employer partners in response to high-volume growth in the local enterprise partnership region’s economy – particularly the need for specialist and higher-level skills responding to the Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) growth plans for sustainable housing in both the public and private sectors. Specifically, the centre will respond to the target to build sufficient new homes – with 130,000 planned across the region in the decade to 2025/26.

The building was part-funded through external funding from SEMLEP’s Skills Capital Fund.

Judith Barker, Director of Programmes and Government at SEMLEP, said: “Addressing both the skills gap and the ageing workforce is seen as a top priority within leading construction companies and it’s extremely heartening to see Northampton College’s ACE Centre become a reality.

“This project will have a real impact on the economic wellbeing for Northampton and beyond, creating not just jobs but a highly-skilled workforce equipped with skills to last a lifetime.”

The project brings together employers, trainers and educators to address the issues faced by the Construction Engineering sector as defined by the recent Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour model which states: “The construction industry and its labour model is at a critical crossroads in terms of its long-term health. If the opportunities are not harnessed, the risks may become overwhelming. The real challenges are associated with the industry’s workforce size and demographic. Based purely on existing workforce age and current levels of new entrant attraction, we could see a 20-25% decline in the available labour force within a decade.”

The second challenge for the industry is the urgent need for it to modernise its working practices to drive efficiencies and the quality of the finished product. In essence, this requires construction workers to move from a ‘build first, snag later’ methodology to an engineered approach which emphasises accuracy of initial build and lean building techniques.

Such a fundamental change offers the industry the chance to enhance its image, boost its competitiveness and improve the quality of its products. However, to make this change, will require a workforce more skilled in accurate initial production and with greater transferable skills to be able to quickly respond to, and utilise, new building technologies.

A spokesman for Kier said: “This project has allowed us to help nurture and develop talent in the younger generation where we currently see a skills gap shortage. It will provide essential skills and training to pave the way for a better future for the local construction industry, local people and the local area.”

The ACE Centre is transformational, vital for change and will address the emerging gaps between employer demands for new skills in this growth area of the STEM curriculum, and the existing baseline of 16-18 and 19-24 age groups.

It will provide the capacity for a new offer to employers including the new standard apprenticeships for higher-level skills responding to the demand for a new generation of construction and technological skills and will demonstrate a measurable impact on the contribution to the economic growth of the region in terms of overall productivity by increasing the volume of viable and relevant higher skilled employees in this sector.

Prospective students can apply online now for courses at the ACE Centre, including plumbing and heating, painting, decorating and interior design, and carpentry, joinery and theatre/film set production.

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