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Industry-backed construction college open to post-GCSE students from 2014

A construction college in the West Midlands backed by some of the UK’s biggest contractors will “open students’ eyes” to the opportunities a career in the industry can offer, according to its newly appointed principal.

Speaking to Construction News as thousands of students across the country received their GCSE results, West Midlands Construction University Technical College principal Tom Macdonald said: “The construction industry is far broader than people imagine. We’re opening students’ eyes to industry jobs.

“From traditional crafts to quantity surveying, project management and architecture – there is a whole range of different elements,” he added.

The UTC will open its doors to 14 to 19-year-olds in September 2014 and offer a construction-led curriculum combining academic study and vocational skills.

The college will have places for 600 students and Mr Macdonald said there had been “a very positive response from students and parents” so far, ahead of the UTC taking its first applications later this year.

“What we will be teaching will be led by employers. We will tailor the curriculum to meet the changing needs of the construction industry”

Tom Macdonald, WMCUTC

The college is sponsored by the CITB, the University of Wolverhampton and Walsall College, and also has a number of industry partners, including Balfour Beatty, Barhale Construction, Hewden Stewart, Lovell, Morgan Sindall and Willmott Dixon.

Mr Macdonald said contractors will be “the guiding force” behind the curriculum to provide students with training the industry needs as it returns to growth.

Students will be able to join the college at 14 or after their GCSEs at 16 to study GCSEs and A-levels alongside technical qualifications and apprenticeships.

Skills shortage

More than 29,000 new construction workers will be needed each year over the next four years to meet the industry’s demand, according to the CITB’s Construction Skills Network forecast.

The CITB also warned of a skills “time bomb” in construction with more than 400,000 people set to retire in the next 10 years.

“What we will be teaching will be led by employers. We will tailor the curriculum to meet the changing needs of the construction industry,” Mr Macdonald said.


Willmott Dixon education director Janie Chesterton said that the industry had struggled to staff projects with the right people, despite the downturn.

But she said the WMCUTC will be an opportunity “to develop the next generation of builders” by starting their education early.

Ms Chesterton added that one in four under 24-year-olds is currently out of work in the West Midlands. 

Projects in the region including High Speed 2, the £58m A45/46 Tollbar End project and the £170m upgrade of the M6 will provide a number of construction jobs for young people over the coming years.

Mr Macdonald added that technical schemes such as the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor and fracking will create further opportunities for skilled construction workers across the country.

“The WMCUTC gives us an opportunity to develop the next generation of builders, by starting their education early”

Janie Chesterton, Willmott Dixon

The curriculum will focus on modern construction design-and-build methods, building services, craft skills and green technologies.

But Mr Macdonald said it would also offer employability and business skills to provide students with “work-related skills our industry partners are after most”.

Each student will have a mentor from the construction industry and will complete practical work experience and project-based learning with the UTC’s industry partners.

Kier has been appointed to deliver a £6m refurbishment and extension of an existing school to create the college on Vernon Way in Walsall, and is also in talks to become an industry partner.

It will include practical working spaces, including two eco-homes that can be taken down and rebuilt to deliver practical training for students.

After completing their education at the UTC, students would have a range of options including going straight into work, starting an apprenticeship or going to university for further study.

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