COLUMN: Our region is vital to the economic success of the nation

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I recently had the pleasure of attending the college’s fourth annual engineering showcase – the first to be held in our new Vision University Centre.

Seeing more than 30 final-year higher national diploma engineering students employed by a wide range of companies presenting their projects to employers, business figures, staff and governors made me reflect on the important role the college plays within the wider issues of national economic growth.

The East Midlands is at the very heart of UK engineering and manufacturing, and has been since the first Industrial Revolution, when Richard Arkwright opened the world’s original water-powered mill in Cromford, Derbyshire. This started the ‘mass production’ age, and although the methods and approaches are very different these days – the area remains at the forefront of this vitally-important sector.

According to the East Midlands Chamber, manufacturing represents more than 14 per cent of the regional labour market, equating to 288,000 jobs – which is around 7.6 per cent of the sector’s national workforce.

The Midlands as a whole contributes 25 per cent of the UK’s manufacturing output; exporting approximately £39bn worth of goods each year, including £7.9bn to the EU - a staggering amount.

The government regularly states there is a skills gap in the areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and, nationally, the manufacturing sector is suffering from low numbers of school-leavers entering the profession. Yet the college continues to see a stable intake of engineering students, both apprentices and full-time learners, which is testament to the strength of the sector in the local area and the excellent reputation we’ve built with employers.

Locally, we are blessed with an incredible number of globally-recognised companies such as National Grid, Bombardier, Glenair UK and Rolls-Royce – and all of these, plus many more, were represented by students at the engineering showcase.

It is clear that these employers both understand the need for training and trust their local college to provide effective skills. The high-quality training provided, alongside working in the sector, has allowed these students to thrive in their chosen careers – so it is no coincidence their projects were of such an impressive standard.

One of the most intriguing projects I saw was from two employees of Crown Speciality Packaging in Mansfield. They had produced a Scotch whiskey container that was square at the bottom and round at the top. Such a simple idea but the engineering skills and technological processes required to make such a strong and durable product were breathtaking.

So, next time you see the instantly-recognisable M&S biscuit tins or Scotch whiskey in luxury packaging, or are travelling to Nottingham on the tram, just think: without the historic manufacturing industry in the East Midlands, and the present and former students of West Nottinghamshire College, those things may well not exist.