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Ambitious plans have been unveiled for a state-of-the-art facility aimed at tackling the severe skills shortages threatening to hit the construction industry in Northamptonshire.

Northampton College has revealed its proposal for a £4.75million Advanced Construction Engineering (ACE) Centre, to be built at its Booth Lane campus, which will help train the next generation of builders, plumbers and decorators and teach pioneering new techniques aimed at equipping the workforce of the future with the very latest skills.

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.

Building work on the centre, which will include a revolutionary ‘Digital Lab’ featuring a Virtual Reality classroom, 3D printing facilities and industry-standard workshop equipment, is scheduled to get underway this summer.

An application for external funding through SEMLEP’s Skills Capital Fund has been approved in principle and further due diligence will now take place with a final decision due later this year.

It is hoped that the ACE Centre, due to launch in September, will provide a pipeline of ‘work-ready’ staff for local employers. A total of 15 major companies, including the likes of Kier, Bowmer & Kirkland, Metcalfe’s and the Murphy Group, have already submitted written pledges to act as industry-based partners.

Principal of Northampton College, Pat Brennan-Barrett, said: “This investment will ensure a new generation of highly skilled, high quality students, with the technical abilities and soft skills required by the sector.

“We will be supported by local and regional businesses who require specifically trained staff to fill the skills gap that currently exists; providing a sustainable, long term and modern workforce to the construction industry and related services.”

The future of the construction industry has been thrown into doubt by the recent Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour model - ‘Modernise or Die’ - which stated: “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 to 25 per cent decline in the available labour force within a decade.”

Addressing both the skills gap and the ageing workforce is seen as a top priority within leading construction companies and local employers have backed the ACE Centre plans.

A spokesman for Kier said: “This project provides a key opportunity to help nurture and develop talent in the younger generation where we currently see a skills gap shortage. The significant benefits that it will provide are skills and training to enhance the future for the local construction industry, local individuals and to the local area.”

A spokesman for the Murphy Group added: “We need high calibre young people to secure the future of our company. We are delighted that Northampton College are responding so pro‐actively in providing solutions for the sector in terms of the delivery of innovative and immersive learning for new young recruits within construction engineering.”

Prospective students can apply online now for courses in painting and decorating, plumbing and carpentry and joinery starting in September 2018.

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