The blast and the builders' boom;FE Focus

24th April 1998 at 01:00
When the IRA bombed Manchester it unwittingly created jobs.Michael Prestage, reports

With building jobs in more generous supply than students, Manchester College of Arts and Technology can virtually guarantee employment for those enrolling on its six-month construction courses.

The demand for trained builders is seen by college staff as a vindication of the policy to expand its construction department while others are running theirs down because the courses are deemed too expensive.

Manchester is now the lead college in the country for construction with 2,000 enrolments a year.

The new school of construction, created by a partnership between the private sector and Manchester College, has won praise from Kim Howells, the education and employment minister .

The partnership involving the college, and, among others, Manchester council, Enterprise plc, and the Construction Industry Training Board led to the creation of a new company, Manchester Education and Training, last year.

The first task was to clear the proposed site of council-owned workshops that had mainly been used for storage. The new construction school now consists of purpose-built workshops and a two-acre site on which students can train.

With major re-building being undertaken following the IRA bomb blast in the city centre in June 1996 and Manchester hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2002 there is an acute shortage of builders.

The target is to have 200 long-term unemployed trained in the first year. Next week seven of the first students to start the course will leave to take up jobs.

Mr Howells paid tribute to the value of the local partnerships and the part they played in the creation of the new school.

What was unusual, he said, was that the project involved the college and the local education authority coming back together in a partnership five years after incorporation broke the old links.

"The new school of construction is an excellent example of an imaginative partnership between the public and private sectors working at a strategic level and at a local practical level to develop and extend training facilities," said Mr Howells.

Nick Marsh, head of construction at Manchester College, said: "There is a massive skills shortage in the city and we are now working with the construction industry to try to address that need. We want to see local people getting this local work."

Anthony Stanley is 55 and had given up hope of finding employment. A bacon roller and cutter by trade, he had been out of work for a few years before deciding to become a builder.

"I was getting nowhere in trying to find a job and thought this course might help," he said, "The course is good and the lads leaving next week have all got jobs so I'm quite hopeful. It beats sitting at home getting depressed."

Franco Pisani, 24, is one of those with a job to go to. When Franco was interviewed for the course he was told there was a 90 per cent chance of work at the end, so he was not unduly surprised when a job turned up.

"I wanted to learn a new skill to try to better myself," said Mr Pisani, who is studying joinery. "I'd been out of work for a year, so this has been ideal. We were the first students and it was a bit slow at first as the tutors were finding their way, but it has got better."

Mr Marsh said the training aimed to be as practical as possible with the school site resembling the sort of construction site students would find when they started work. The six-month course leads to a level 2 national vocational qualification.

Manchester training and enterprise council - another of the scheme's partners - is currently undertaking the first of what will be a six-monthly survey. The aim is to gauge trends in the construction industry, so that training is tailored to meet demand.

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