From education to employment

Northern Regional College Developing Core Manufacturing Skills in Ballymena

Graham Whitehurst, Patrick McNeill, Jack Doyle, Nigel Baxter, Samuel Wilson, Christine Brown

Northern Regional College continues to play an important collaborative role in developing core manufacturing skills in the Ballymena area.

The College has worked closely with local businesses in the Mid and East Antrim Manufacturing Task Force (MTF) to develop a Manufacturing Academy which delivers a bespoke manufacturing training programme to fill skills gaps.

Funded by The Gallaher Trust, and with the support and assistance from the MTF, the Manufacturing Academy was launched in 2021. The third group of 17 participants have begun a five-week intensive training programme in the College’s well-equipped workshops in Ballymena this week.

Traditionally, manufacturing was the highest grossing sector in the Mid and East Antrim Area, sustaining thousands of jobs and contributing millions to the local economy, but in recent years, the manufacturing base suffered a series of significant setbacks.

The MTF was established in 2018 to offset the impact of the closures of JTI Gallaher and Michelin, two of the Ballymena’s major employers, there has been a growing demand for trained employees in the local manufacturing sector. 

Gordon Kane, Engineering lecturer and Curriculum Area Manager for HE and WBL Advanced Technologies (Higher Education and Work Based Learning) explained that the skills training would be delivered by the College’s industrial experts:

“The Academy will introduce participants to a range of generic manufacturing processes, including welding, fabrication, manual machining, CAD, CNC machining, robotics, quality control and automation. The course is focused on practical hands-on skills, company visits and guest speakers.

“As part of the programme, students will develop their knowledge in health and safety by completing a one-day CSR (Construction Site Register) course, they’ll experience a wide range of manufacturing skills and become familiar with lean and continuous improvement techniques.”

He continued: “Participants are guaranteed interviews with Ballymena based MTF manufacturing companies when they complete their training, and as well as technical training, there will also be a focus on ‘softer’ skills, such as communication, team working, CV building and interview techniques to help them secure employment.” 

Pamela Steele, Northern Regional College Business Engagement Officer said the Manufacturing Academy would give a much-needed boost to the sector by encouraging individuals, regardless of their age and previous experience, to consider a career path in the manufacturing sector.

“The Manufacturing Academy is a ‘win-win’ for everyone involved as it will help secure the future growth of the manufacturing sector in Ballymena by giving employers access to a growing pool of skilled ‘work ready’ employees and participants will improve their employability and career prospects by completing the Academy’s training programme.”

Ian Paisley, MP Chair of The Gallaher Trust explained why they funded the Academy:

 “The Gallaher Trust was born out of the closure of the JTI/Gallaher factory and its legacy. Among the Trust’s main aims are to promote job creation and upskilling and the establishment of the Manufacturing Academy was a perfect fit to making a difference, along with Northern Regional College being a delivery partner. It is great to see the difference that both the Northern Regional College and the MTF are making.

“The third cohort of the Manufacturing Academy has to be welcomed and I look forward to engaging with the participants in due course and them gaining an interview with a view to employment in one of Ballymena’s manufacturing facilities as a result.

Graham Whitehurst MBE, Chair of the Task Force, stated that “the manufacturing sector especially in Mid and East Antrim provides a very progressive career path.  The MTF companies through the support they are giving to the Manufacturing Academy are providing opportunities within this growing sector which is now progressing through the introduction of advanced technology to Industry 4.0 standards”, 

He continued: “In partnership with Northern Regional College and the much appreciated funding support from The Gallaher Trust, the academy is providing a workforce trained in line with industry requirements.

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