A Pounds 4.2bn stake in Britain's future

12th September 1997 at 01:00
The excitement in South Wales is almost tangible. Next month the first phase of what has been termed Europe's biggest inward investment project will open in Newport. LG Electronics, part of the LG Group of South Korea, is set to create 6,100 jobs in a Pounds 1.7bn investment project.

This is just the latest in a long line of Korean investment in Britain in recent years which is estimated to be worth Pounds 4.22bn and puts the country second in the list of overseas investors, behind the United States. In the last year, the Koreans have embarked on six large investment projects responsible for creating more than 9,000 jobs.

Samsung announced its investment of Pounds 450m in a consumer electonics plant in the North-east two years ago, while Hyundai Electronics chose central Scotland last October for its Pounds 2.4bn semiconductor plant. Daewoo is producing video-cassette recorders from a plant in Northern Ireland.

The arrival of these firms has signalled an increase in the number of Korean families choosing to make their home in Britain. Many choose to work here for between three to five years before returning home. The Koreans estimate there are about 30,000 living in Britain and many more are yet to come.

The wave of investment has prompted great interest from Britain's schools and colleges. They want to be sure that their pupils are ready to take advantage of the employment being offered by Korean firms, often in areas of high unemployment.

In Newport, where LG is based, plans are already in full swing. The council, in partnership with Gwent Training and Enterprise Council, has unveiled plans to build a regional technology centre to ensure that pupils in primary and secondary schools throughout the region are equipped with the skills they need in technology, maths and science. The centre will also train teachers in these areas and is set to include state-of-the-art science, maths, technology and engineering resources which individual schools are unable to afford.

A spokeswoman for Newport County Borough Council said: "`The centre will gear up teachers in technology and electronics. The LG development is massive so there is a serious need to educate people otherwise there will be a skillsshortage."

Nearby, Gwent Tertiary College has been considering a number of new courses which could help students gain employment with LG. In collaboration with Gwent TEC, it launched a course in May which teaches students about electronic circuits including basic wiring and soldering. The college also offers a one-day course in Korean culture. So far places have mainly been filled by business people, but there has also been interest from those applying for jobs at LG. The course focuses on teaching the basics in Korean language and social etiquette, including greeting people and presenting a business card.

Gwent Tertiary has also benefited financially from the arrival of LG. It has won a contract to provide training for the company. From next month it will be paid to train 25 Modern Apprentices selected by LG.

Daewoo, was the first Korean company to invest in Britain. It set up a factory to manufacture video recorders in Northern Ireland 11 years ago. Now the corporation has also established an engineering works in Worthing, Sussex, and a sales and marketing outlet for its car company in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire.

In Antrim, Northern Ireland the company has just begun a project with local schools in conjunction with Business in The Community. Siobhan Mooney, human resources officer with Daewoo Electronics, said: "We are working with the local BITC to deal with issues affecting students. We want to gear the programme to 14-year-olds and give them some contact with business before they make their GCSE choices."

The project will involve bringing pupils to the Daewoo site and using role-plays and team sessions to teach them about business skills. Ms Mooney is planning to create programmes which will involve pupils taking on the role of the sales or production manager.

She said: "Our aim is to let local pupils know how their education will be of use in the real world and show them that, even if they choose geography, they will still need business skills when they go into the market place."

In the North-east, where Samsung is based, there is significant interest among colleges and schools. Tony Maxwell, headteacher of St Michael's Roman Catholic Comprehensive School in Stockton, said: "We have approached the company and asked them to give us a greater insight into what their needs are, but so far we are not very clear. It is early days however, and we are hoping to make more progress this year."

Local FE colleges are paid by Samsung to provide training for employees but it has not asked them to run particular courses to meets its needs for new workers.

Tony Sutcliffe, principal of Hartlepool College, said: "We provide a course in programmeable logic control for Samsung employees but the company has not asked us to add anything to our existing electronics and engineering courses. If it was to ask for anything extra we would offer it as a bolt-on for students. "

Those who have been out of work for six months are eligible for the six-week course and guaranteed an interview with Samsung at the end of it.

For schools and colleges in the North-east links with Samsung look set to strengthen. A spokesman for Samsung revealed: "Our links with schools and colleges have so far been very informal but we are now looking at areas in which we can tie in with them such as sponsorship and site visits."

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