A further education college with over 12,000 learners across South Wales is putting its strong working relationships with local businesses to good use in order to tackle high levels of employment in Blaenau Gwent.
Coleg y Cymoedd has teamed up with Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council to deliver the Aspire apprenticeship programme, an initiative directly targeting towns within Blaenau Gwent - a region with the second largest unemployment levels in Wales, double the UK average to boost the take-up of apprenticeships in the area.
Towns like Ebbw Vale have seen significant investment in the last year, such as car manufacturer TVR set to open a new facility by 2017, however independent studies by the Universities Heads of the Valleys (UHOVI) have identified a significant skills gap within the manufacturing and engineering sector in the region. Along with the attraction of the Ebbw Vale Enterprise Zone for new investors, the apprenticeship programme, of which Coleg y Cymoedd is the leading provider, aims to actively fill the available jobs and produce apprentices that are work-ready.
Coming to the end of its pilot year, the programme has successfully placed 17 apprentices in 11 businesses from the area, across a range of industries from motor vehicle manufacturers and mechanical engineering. Each apprentice has a bespoke training plan agreed with the college ensuring they’re on track to become work-ready.
One of the Coleg y Cymoedd learners benefitting from the Aspire programme is Declan Hughes, 17, from Merthyr Tydfil, who has been employed by leading international automotive industry supplier Continental Teves. Declan said of his first year on the Aspire programme: “My first year as an apprentice has been a really valuable experience and provided me with the perfect platform for what I’d like to achieve in the future.
“There are so many benefits for work place learning but for me personally it has improved my communication skills in and outside of work. I’ve gained more knowledge and practical ability that can be applied within my placement and personal life. It’s been a brilliant first year!”
It is hoped the success of Aspire’s pilot year will encourage more young people to take advantage of the training opportunities in Blaenau Gwent, and in the long term reduce the 12.5% unemployment rate for the area, which equates to around 3000 people being out of work.
With over 50 young people applying for one of 20 places during Aspire’s pilot year, it is anticipated that the 25 spaces available during the next academic year will be filled quickly.
Judith Evans, Principal of Coleg y Cymoedd, said: “There are worryingly high unemployment figures right on our doorstep. But with the level of investment that has come into South Wales recently, plus a significant gap in the jobs market for highly skilled individuals, we want to ensure our learners are right at the front of the queue to fill job positions that could come their way.
“We’re thankful that our working relationships with local manufacturers have allowed us to create opportunities for our young people to develop the skills employers are specifically looking for. Feedback from the businesses engaged with Aspire has been incredibly positive, a real credit to our learners.”
Jim McIlwee, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Economy, Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council said: “The Aspire Shared Apprenticeship Programme is a fantastic scheme to help up-skill, support and provide employment opportunities for people in Blaenau Gwent. The programme focuses specifically on the engineering sector and is the first in Wales and Blaenau Gwent. I am pleased that last year’s programmes started well.”
Recruitment for the September 2016 programme has begun and further information can be obtained from the Aspire team, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org