Last Friday I visited the Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology on the Stanmore Industrial Estate on the edge of Bridgnorth, with several local Shropshire Councillors, including ward member Michael Wood and deputy portfolio holder Elliott Lynch.
The finishing touches are being made to this state-of-the-art modern facility with latest brand new equipment to teach foundation engineering skills in machining, welding and foundry work; through metrology, materials testing, tooling, hydraulics pneumatics; to CNC, electronics, and robotics; as well as dedicated vehicle trim and finish sections.
This should become a real success story for skills training through apprenticeships in South Shropshire. Three Shropshire engineering businesses and a training provider, formed a partnership two years ago which has secured funding from the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership and Growth Hub to establish a brand new £4m bespoke training centre in South Shropshire.
The centre will create an initial 40 full time apprenticeship positions starting this September, offering local school leavers opportunities to develop engineering, design and business skills relevant to secure jobs to meet employers' needs in the engineering and automotive sectors.
Apprenticeships starts have grown significantly in South Shropshire and the wider UK, with 2 million apprenticeship starts since 2010, including over 4,000 in South Shropshire. This is really good news, given the benefits both to employers and trainees that apprenticeships offer.
Young people gain valuable skills, experience of regular work, and qualifications. Local companies in return can address skills gaps for the future, expand for a reduced cost, and get to know talented young potential employees.
This focus on skills training for school leavers, and an improving economy, has helped reduce youth unemployment in South Shropshire by over 62% since 2010. It is important to maintain momentum, so I hope this new centre will provide a major opportunity for local young people to develop the skills they need for a long term career.
It is easier for businesses now to hire apprentices, since employers' National Insurance contributions were abolished for apprenticeships under 25. It is also welcome that employers and training providers who take on 16 to 18 year olds, and 19 to 24 year-olds who were in care or who have an education and health care plan, will receive £1,000 each from Government, to encourage job opportunities for them.
Government funding helps meet training costs, so I encourage businesses in South Shropshire to consider taking on an apprentice with a fresh cohort of school leavers now getting their results. Information for young people and employers is available from County Training in Shrewsbury on 0345 6789023 or online at www.ctapprenticeships.co.uk or from the Aspire Centre in Burford at www.nsc.ac.uk or from MCMT in Bridgnorth at www.mcmt.co.uk.