£12m elite centre set to revitalise skills development in the Black Country

Groundbreaking ceremony at the new ECMS foundry spoke in Tipton

The latest phase of a new initiative to improve the manufacturing skills base of the Black Country has officially begun.

The £12m Elite Centre for Manufacturing Skills at the Thomas Dudley factory site in Tipton is the latest phase of a much wider scheme involving a consortium from industry, the academic sector, the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership and various trade federations.

A formal groundbreaking ceremony at the site heralds the start of an ambitious project focussing on developing casting skills – still an integral part of industry in the area.

The University of Wolverhampton has appointed Midlands-based contractor, Shaylor Group, to build the new centre, which will be on the site of a now-demolished office block.

The ‘foundry and patternmaking spoke’ will be a purpose-built training facility adjacent to the existing Thomas Dudley foundry in Dudley Port where students will have access to industrial facilities.

How the ECMS foundry spoke will look

The Black Country LEP has approved £8.04m for the ECMS project with training being delivered in Tipton, Dudley, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton. Work has already started at the ECMS hub site on the former Springfield brewery in Wolverhampton.

Led by the University of Wolverhampton, the ECMS hub and spokes is intended to provide employer-led training designed to improve productivity and growth in the high value manufacturing (HVM) sector.

The various partners in the project include: Dudley College, Black Country LEP, Thomas Dudley, Cast Metals Federation, Confederation of British Metalforming and the Institute of Cast Metal Engineers and The University of Wolverhampton. The partners are investing an additional £4.15m in the project, bringing the total investment to £12.19m.

Ian Fitzpatrick, chief executive of the Elite Centre for Manufacturing Skills, said the entire ECMS project would provide world-class training facilities which in turn, would support the delivery of apprenticeships through to Degree Apprenticeships at the university.

They will also focus on upskilling to support business growth within the area by providing transferrable skills for other industries in the Black Country.

“It’s an ambitious project but we are keen to see it up and running as quickly as possible,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

“The centre will form a critical part of skills development in this area and supply the future workforce our industries need.”

Professor Ian Oakes, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “Manufacturing is a highly specialised sector that has an ageing workforce and which is suffering from a significant skills gap. Following extensive consultation with businesses across the Black Country, it’s clear that the region is lacking the skills that underpin HVM performance, productivity and growth.

“This is a key strategic project which links employers, further education and higher education in the Black Country and provides another huge step forward in the regeneration of the Black Country, helping to boost the economy and create jobs.”

Colin Parker, of the Black Country Consortium, said: “The spoke will be open in December and then we can start providing the training that is going to prove so important to the future of this area.

“Having such a wide collaboration is unique for a project of this kind and is much needed. The closest centre currently offering this training is in Sheffield, which is of limited use to this region.”

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