A £4m state-of the-art training hub has been officially opened today, with bosses urging other manufacturers to step forward to avoid a skills drain caused by the uncertainty of Brexit.
The Marches Centre of Manufacturing & Technology (MCMT), which is run by a consortium of Classic Motor Cars, Grainger & Worrall, In-Comm Training and Salop Design & Engineering, was unveiled in front of 250 people with many delegates receiving their first glimpse of the 36,000 sq ft facility.
Managing Director Matthew Snelson used the event to issue a rallying call for more firms to work together in a bid to stop ‘cannibalising’ the pool of industry talent in the UK.
He believes the MCMT offers a perfect blueprint for other companies to follow after it secured £1.9m of Government Growth Deal funding via the Marches LEP and backing from Shropshire Council to create specialist training opportunities for apprentices and existing workers.
"If we continue to sit back and wait for others to solve the skills gap then we’re going to fall short of where we need to be in terms of skills and productivity in UK manufacturing," explained Matthew.
"We need to flood the market with new talent and ensure there are enough individuals to satisfy the growth expectations of industry. You only have to look at the West Midlands to see how firms are being held back due to a lack of key skills, both at the new recruits stage and with their existing workforces."
He continued: "We have an urgent need for more skilled labour and that is where we come in by creating a dedicated centre that will deliver more than ‘2020 learning opportunities by 2020’.
"This didn’t happen overnight. The four companies involved hatched the plan more than eighteen months ago and it was only through their own investment and the backing of the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership and other partners that the vision has turned into reality."
The Marches Centre of Manufacturing & Technology is housed in a 36,000 sq ft site on the Stanmore Industrial Estate in Bridgnorth.
An old storage facility for Grainger & Worrall has been transformed into the modern centre,
which provides a high-tech environment for individuals to learn from engineering experts on the latest technology – all geared towards giving them opportunities to apply their new found skills on real life manufacturing situations.
It is equipped with over £2m of state-of-the-art equipment, including dedicated fabrication, foundry, lathe, metrology, milling, robotics and vehicle trimming sections.
There is also a 200-seat auditorium, smaller break-out classrooms and a CNC Zone that is full of 3-axis and 5-axis machines donated by the Engineering Technology Group.
Graham Wynn OBE, Chairman of the Marches LEP, said: "Employers know best the skills issues they face and the employment needs of their workforces. MCMT is a fantastic example of a private-sector led project to develop the next generation of engineers working within the Midlands Engine."
Philip Dunne, Minister of State for Health and MP for Ludlow, marked the official opening by cutting out a MCMT logo on one of the machines in the centre. He added his support:
"This is an outstanding resource for South Shropshire, providing state-of-the-art engineering equipment to train young people to become the highly skilled engineers and product designers of the future. The MCMT is an excellent example of local employers, supported by the Marches LEP and central government, investing in skills through apprenticeships for local school leavers to help sustain local businesses in Shropshire for generations to come."
The MCMT has already recruited 21 apprentices for trailblazer apprenticeships in machining, technical support, mechatronics, maintenance and light vehicles.
Eight local employers are already sending individuals to the centre, where they will spend five days per week – for 18 months – learning from expert trainers on technology that few of their peers will have access to.
Future plans include the launch of a heritage engineering apprenticeship to support the classic vehicle, marine, stream and aerospace sectors, not to mention the roll-out of incubation space and the MCMT Engineering Club.
17 year-old Lauren Ball is part of the first cohort to join the Marches Centre of Manufacturing & Technology as part of her Quality Engineer apprenticeship with Caterpillar in Shrewsbury.
"I wanted to be a teacher originally, before product design lessons captured my imagination and this got me thinking about a career in engineering.
The former Hadley Learning Community pupil added: "Within a few weeks of getting my GCSEs I’d secured a job at Caterpillar and this involved me completing my apprenticeship at the MCMT. Dad and I drove down to have a look around and I was amazed at the facilities, the scale of the technology and how it could help me in my career.
"I’m the only girl on my course at the moment, but the lads have been great and we all get on well, supporting each other during tasks and even car sharing. It won’t be long until I’m bossing them about though."
In addition to the LEP backing, the Marches Centre of Manufacturing & Technology has also received funding from a Marches redundant building grant and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), not to mention industry backing from FBC Manby Bowdler, Filtermist, Halter, Hexagon Metrology, Mastercam, Mechatronics and Zwick Roell Group.