COLLEGE officials have briefed their local MP about the brave new world of learning that is being delivered to the next generation of students thanks to a major investment in facilities.
Robotics, automation and electric vehicle labs are among a host of new facilities being created at Darlington College to train hi-tech workers to meet a skills gap for national and local companies.
Funded by a successful £2.75m bid from the Strategic Development Fund, part of the Government’s Skills Accelerator initiative, the current phase of development came on the heels of a £600,000 grant to develop a business hub for professional qualifications and a hi-tech training centre.
Senior managers at Darlington College conducted a special tour for the town’s MP Peter Gibson who was “blown away” by the quality of the further education facility on Haughton Road.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I’m completely blown away with the absolutely fantastic array of courses taught here and the investment in the place over the years, which is now reaping rewards in terms of the increased skills we are seeing. This is a spectacular opportunity for Darlington and I’m incredibly proud to have this facility on my patch. This next stage of expansion of the college will boost the local economy and I’m looking forward to coming back when it has been completed.”
Work has started on the huge two-storey steel and glass facility, which it is hoped will be available to students from September.
The project will see the construction of three new engineering environments – a robotics and automation manufacturing lab, a technical support workshop and an electric and hybrid vehicle workshop.
The development is aimed at filling a skills gap caused by an ageing engineering population and the rapid onset of new technology based around robotics and the growth of electric vehicles.
It also will be instrumental in delivering a new T-Level qualification in light vehicle and electric vehicle maintenance.
Mr Gibson was shown round the construction site as well as the almost completed business hub. He then visited existing facilities including bricklaying and carpentry, motor vehicle, electrical, plumbing and media centres.
Deputy principal Carole Todd said: “The team of curriculum managers always have to look forward to see what is going to happen in the next five years so we can invest in the right technology and develop relevant courses for students. This is challenging but exciting.”
Mr Gibson was told how school careers advisors were kept abreast of the changes and that around 3,000 pupils a year were invited to the college to experience the facilities and get a taste of student life.
Construction curriculum manager Lisa Bowerbank told Mr Gibson there was increasing emphasis on energy efficiency, carbon awareness and sustainability. “With this country’s housing stock there is the need to retrofit properties, many of which were built in the 20s, but in a way that is respectful to the period architecture,” she said. “It’s a huge issue as you have to think about history. You cannot just demolish our terraced houses because if you do you are removing history.”
Mr Gibson also visited the college’s Wings Academy, complete with a replica of an aeroplane cabin, which was set up to serve the needs of the tourism industry.
He heard that the college also organises employability and employer events to help local firms keep up-to-date with the latest developments which might impact on their businesses.
Darlington College has been at the vanguard of engineering for years offering HNCs, HNDs and apprenticeships on full- and part-time programmes. Over the past four years it has also successfully piloted the placement element of the new T-Levels. The college is due to deliver T-Levels in engineering and childcare from September.