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Training, planes and automobiles

NNws of the "carve-up" of Rolls-Royce by the German car giants BMW three years ago sent shock waves through the Cheshire town of Crewe, where the prestigious car manufacturer has long been a big employer.

But the fears were short lived. BMW snapped up the Rolls-Royce name and marque, while the Volkswagen Audi Group bought the car plant and announced big expansion plans.

Last year, the company announced a pound;500 million investment in the plant. The company name is to change to Bentley Motors and production is expected to increase from 1,500 cars a year to around 9,000 annually over the next five years. The firm has taken on 400 new engineers and plans are afoot to create even more jobs.

Meanwhile, a local consortium has been working with Bentley to provide the necessary skills. Member insitutions include Reaseheath College, South Cheshire College, Cheshire amp; Warrington Learning amp; Skills Council, all the local education authorities and the new Connexions service.

The consortium is preparing an action plan to ensure that Crewe has the training infrastructure in place to support Bentley and the other supply industries affected by this sizeable investment.

The plan is broad - it involves secondary schools and graduate-level training. There wil be a state-of-the-art centre of excellence that will provide vocational GCSEs for schools and encourage the involvement of the wider community by training school-leavers and the long-term unemployed.

"It's locking together that whole provision," says Andrea Montgomery, director of strategy and plannin for Cheshire and Warrington Learning and Skills Council. "The introduction of the Learning and Skills Council has allowed that to happen for the first time."

Meanwhile, the nearby Macclesfield College is involved in a similar project to develop a centre of excellence in aerospace engineering, to be phased in from autumn this year.

In response to a shortage of aerospace engineers, the college has teamed up with BAe Systems, the North West Aerospace Alliance and the North West Development Agency to set up the European Centre of Aerospace Training. The new centre will be based at the BAe Systems site at Woodford, Cheshire, and has the backing of the Civil Aviation Authority and major airlines.

Ken Reece, a college spokesman, says: "We see a lot of growth potential. We hope to be doing training for many of the major airlines. The difficulty for the college is that we have limited space. We're working on a 1952 Vampire jet, and we need to be working on a 737 or equivalent. The plan is to have a hangar at BAe Systems, where trainees can work in a live aircraft environment." Mr Reece sees the new centre as fulfilling potential demand for training not just nationally, but in Europe and beyond.

"We're satisfying a world demand here which, if it's allowed to deteriorate much longer, will have serious implications for the world aerospace industry.

"We're forming strong partnerships with industry and other education providers, and we think the whole thing will be an ambassador for the North-west, and ultimately for the UK."

Martin Whittaker

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