The region’s first railway academy has been given the green light, bringing the future of rail engineering to the North East along with the prospect of thousands of jobs.
Newcastle College’s £5m state-of-the-art training facility will be built on land between Heworth and Pelaw and will provide a “once in a generation” opportunity for school leavers.
The Government has already pledged billions of pounds to improving Britain’s rail infrastructure and the college says the region’s rich rail heritage and engineering prowess stand it in good stead to take advantage of future job opportunities.
The college’s deputy principal, Robin Ghurbhurun, said more than 1,000 rail workers across the region will be ready to retire in the next five years.
And with Hitachi due to open its £82m train-building facility in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, in three years, Mr Ghurbhurun believes now is the time to train a workforce ready for the plant when it arrives.
He said: “Our aim is to up-skill individuals to take advantage of jobs available in the future. It’s really about bringing the future of rail to the North East. There’s a real buzz around the region’s manufacturing community, what with Hitachi’s confirmed location here.
“There’s also the plethora of job opportunities that will come on the back of the Government’s proposed High Speed Rail project.
“The existing workforce within the region’s rail industry, with no growth at all, is 1,000 workers and they’re due to retire over the next five years.
“Nationally, more than 25,000 people in the rail industry are due to retire in the next 10 years. It’s vital to ensure we replace that workforce with the level of skills that will be required.”
The college is working with a number of key stakeholders on the project, including Network Rail and The National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE). It will train people from GCSE through to degree level and will include qualifications in electrification, signalling and telecommunications.
The project has already won support from the North East’s own light rail system, Nexus, and London Underground, which is donating equipment to the new academy.
The school will be up and running by September and aims to train 800 students over the next five years.
“I’m delighted to say we’re bringing back the newest growth sector in engineering to the region,” said Mr Ghurbhurun.
“We’re developing the right skills for young people who will hopefully go on to secure a career in the buoyant rail industry.
“This is the first hub in the region for focusing on railway engineering; there’s been nothing like it before.
“With youth unemployment so high, we need to convince school leavers that this is less about oily rags and more about a profession for life.
“It’s great to be announcing this new academy during Science and Engineering Week and it’s not just about looking to the future and the modern technologies associated with that, but it’s also important to learn from the rich heritage of the rail industry that was born out of this part of the world.”
Gil Howarth, chief executive of the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE), said: “NSARE is proud to support this excellent initiative which will provide a centre of excellence for railway engineering training in the North East.
“It is vital that we attract young people into our buoyant industry; we need a highly competent workforce to support record levels of investment.”