Changing role in industrial heartland

Bridgend College's changing role over the years has reflected the broader social and economic development of the town halfway between Swansea and Cardiff.

Founded in 1929 as a mining institute, it will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year as an institution linked to the inward investors and small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) which cluster at the west end of the M4 corridor.

With 2,000 full-time and 9,000 part-time students, it caters for around one in twelve of the total population of Bridgend county borough.

Like every other college, it finds serving small companies problematic: "It is inevitably difficult for many to release people for courses," says Adrian Beynon, director of commercial services.

But they hope to have come up with an answer in their newest enterprise - a dedicated advice and training centre on an industrial estate in the town.

Run in partnership with the Engineering Employers' Federation and consultants XR Associates, the Pounds 750,000 centre should be in operation by the middle of next year: "We will be on the doorstep for companies on the estate, offering them services such as employment law advice, information training and website design," says principal Roger Hampton.

The hope is that by making the college more accessible to the majority of local companies - the Fforwm report points out that 96 per cent of Welsh enterprises fall into the SME bracket - it will be able to extend an existing SME market heavily focused on statutory requirements like health and safety training.

But the college also intends to strengthen existing links with larger companies like the British Steel Corporation, a few miles further west at Port Talbot.

The college provides all the training for their apprentices, and was closely involved in planning for the new Pounds 140 million production line opened last year: "We designed and delivered a 12-week training programme for around 300 people working on the new plant. It was a prestige development for BSC and is regarded as a great success," says Beynon.

The college has contributed to an even higher profile Welsh project - providing health and safety training for workers engaged by Laing, the contractors on the Millennium Stadium, venue for the 1999 Rugby World Cup Final.

Other links include major local employers Sony, Ford and German machine tool concern Bosch. "We designed and delivered a variety of tailored programmes for Bosch over a number of years after they first came to Wales. They were particularly concerned to ensure that their workforce should have a reasonable grasp of German," says Beynon.

And Bridgend's service to the Welsh economy isn't just about serving employers. It is also the national centre for training courses run by the Welsh TUC.

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