Northumberland County Council’s new £1.4m state-of-the-art welding and fabrication training centre has been bolstered by a new “CoWelder” robotic welding machine.
Positioned in the heart of the Port of Blyth, alongside the flagship Energy Central Learning Campus, the centre is designed to tackle the skills gap by training up the next generation of engineers to meet the needs of industry and create opportunities for rewarding careers for local people.
After opening to students earlier this year, it has now taken delivery of a cutting-edge robotic CoWelder thanks to a partnership with global manufacturer Migatronic.
Described as a collaborative welding robot or “cobot”, it is built to work together with teams in a shared workspace without the need for safety barriers and to carry out routine work so a welder can channel their skills into other more complex tasks.
Every student in the centre also has their own welding bay – kitted out with Migatronic equipment.
The training centre is run by Northumberland Skills, the council’s post-16 education provider, offering a wide range of full and part-time courses, apprenticeship training programmes and employability programmes to residents across the county and beyond.
Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson, Cabinet member with responsibility for Inspiring Young People, said: “Northumberland County Council is investing in our young people and people of all ages who want to learn new skills for the jobs of the future.
“This state-of-the-art training centre and technology is going to propel business and industry forward in Blyth, Northumberland and beyond.
“The team at Northumberland Skills is passionate about inspiring the next generation and are building close relationships with their industry partners to make sure their offer meets business needs.
"This is a really exciting time for Blyth and Northumberland as we look to the future.”
Blyth Valley MP, Ian Levy, added: “I am thrilled to visit the new Northumberland Skills Welding and Fabrication Centre and to see learners already reaping the rewards of the state-of-the-art facilities.
“This investment by the council recognises the ambition here in Blyth, and Northumberland, to be a driving force in building thriving green industries in Britain.”
Richard Young, Country Manager, Migatronic, said: “We are delighted to partner with Northumberland County Council and Northumberland Skills on this innovative new centre in the rapidly expanding Port of Blyth.
“Our CoWelders work alongside teams to boost productivity, enhance safety, and empower welders to focus on the complex tasks they excel at.
“Investing in the engineers of the future is key to our business and we look forward to developing this partnership so that Northumberland continues to lead the way in creating new green jobs for the future.”
The training centre aims to equip learners with the skills they need to kickstart their career in advanced manufacturing, engineering, construction, marine and clean energy sectors.
As well as school leavers, welding short courses for adults are also available and start in September, along with bespoke packages for employers looking to upskill their workforce and a variety of apprenticeship training programmes.
Among the latest cohort of learners is Gordon MacKay, 31, from Morpeth. The dad-of-three is part of a training partnership between Northumberland Skills and Blyth-based sheet metal fabrication specialists, Universal Wolf, part of the market-leading Tharsus Group.
He said: “It’s a career change for me and when I heard about the course I jumped at the chance. I was an electrician, but now I’m loving welding. The facilities and the teachers are fantastic.
“I’ve learned so much already in such a short space of time and I’m really excited about the career opportunities this course will bring."
Kerry Patterson, Head of HR at Tharsus Group, says the company is committed to supporting skills development and local employability.
“Providing ongoing training to help people progress in their role, or move into a new role altogether, is something Universal Wolf as a business is extremely passionate about. In-house, we support colleague development through our ‘Grow Our Own’ program. We’re delighted to be able to apply this ethos in collaboration with Northumberland Skills, to support the skills development of the people of Northumberland.”
Paul Lewis, Operations Director at Universal Wolf, said: “The skills gap in manufacturing is something you hear a lot about, and Universal Wolf is no different in facing that challenge. This welding skills course is a fantastic investment for Northumberland and provides local talent with a route in to engineering and industry they may otherwise not have had. We’re very excited to see how the current learners get on, and to see them apply their new skills in the workplace.”