Midlands’ first construction school gets green light from DfE

Birmingham-based contractor and developer Willmott Dixon has welcomed proposals to set up the West Midlands’ first University Technical College (UTC) specialising in construction.

The DfE gave the plans the green light today. The West Midlands Construction University Technical College was the only construction based UTC bid to be given the go ahead in this bidding round.

Willmott Dixon, which employs nearly 1,000 people in Birmingham and the surrounding region, was the lead private sector/employer sponsor of the bid to the Department for Education (DfE) to establish the new institution. This involved the 160 year old building firm taking a clear startegic role, guiding the bid and will involve it in an ongoing relationship with the College. It also builds on the investment that Willmott Dixon is making in its Skills Academy, which is aimed at the adult training sector and will be set up within the city of Birmingham.

UTCs are new Technical Academies for 14-19-year-olds. They teach traditional subjects such as English, maths and modern languages, alongside vocational skills such as engineering or construction.

The West Midlands Construction UTC will be located in Walsall and will accommodate up to 600 students drawn from Birmingham, the Black Country, North Solihull, Telford/Wrekin and South Staffs.

The plan is for it to be based at the same site as the Balck Country UTC on Vernon Way. The College’s backers hope that the UTC will open its doors in September 2014.

Each UTC is sponsored by a university – the University of Wolverhampton and Walsall College are behind the Walsall UTC – an industry partner, in this case CITB Construction Skills, the industry’s training board and sector skills council, plus a lead employer sponsor, Willmott Dixon.

A range of other partners are also supporting the initiative*

The institution has been established in response to local skills need. CITB research shows a forecast need for more construction managers in the region.

As a further part of the research the CITB also surveyed the community. There was an extremely positive response from community respondents. When asked in a face to face survey, more than 90 per cent of these respondents felt that the UTC would be a positive contribution to the area. Increasing the value of vocational, skills based qualifications is also seen as a good aspect to this new school model. More school places are also needed to address the bulge in primary school numbers across the region, as this works its way up the education hierarchy.

The curriculum at the West Midlands Construction UTC will focus on modern construction design and build methods; building services; craft skills and green technologies. Its emphasis will be on project based learning with strong employer links. As a result, the UTC will also be a feeder route into apprenticeships and construction-related higher education.

Janie Chesterton, education sector director at Willmott Dixon, was part of the five-person bidding team to the DfE. She will sit on the College’s governing body and help devise the curriculum to ensure employers’ needs are met.

She said: “This is great news for the Midlands’ construction sector. Even in these hard times we can struggle to find suitably qualified people to deliver our projects. Against a backdrop of rising youth unemployment the initiative provides significantly better job prospects for those coming out of the education system, whether that’s at 16, 19 or following higher education.”

Britain’s first UTC opened in September 2010. The Government has committed to opening 24 by 2014/15.

* Full list of partners:

Barhale Construction plc; Balfour Beatty plc; Construction Industry Council; Construction Plant-hire Assocition; Hewden Plant Hire; Institution of Civil Engineers; LABC; Lovell; the Chartered Institute of Building; the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineering; the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation; the National Federation of Roofing Contractors Limited; Thomas Telford School; Walsall Council and Willmott Dixon.