The first cohort of up to 90 Cumbrian apprentices are being trained for telecoms jobs at facilities which are breathing new life into the site of the former Newton Rigg College near Penrith.
The 125-year-old agricultural college closed in 2021, but in a huge boost for jobs and skills across Cumbria, broadband provider Fibrus, along with its network build partner Viberoptix, committed to creating at least 90 apprenticeships covering a range of roles from underground and overhead cabling to surveying.
Eight local people have now started their apprenticeships at the new Viberoptix Training Academy following an extensive refit that includes offices, training rooms and around 30 poles in a practice field.
The facility is also being used for training courses for Viberoptix staff, providing a further boost to the local economy through hotel bookings.
Over the autumn the trainees, all from the local area, will acquire formal telecoms qualifications, alongside in-class training specific to telecoms and field-based experience, equipping them with the skills and expertise necessary to commence long term careers in the industry. On completion all will be offered permanent employment with Viberoptix, working on Fibrus build projects.
The reopening of Newton Rigg was made possible following the award in November 2022 of a £108m Project Gigabit contract to supplier Fibrus, which will deliver lightning-fast gigabit connections to around 60,000 rural premises across rural parts of Cumbria.
Project Gigabit is the Government’s £5bn mission to deliver lightning-fast, reliable broadband to people across the UK, working with broadband suppliers to achieve 85% gigabit coverage of the UK by 2025, and then to nationwide coverage by 2030. It aims to ensure people have the same access to fast and reliable connectivity wherever they live, work and study.
More than 77% of homes and businesses can now access a gigabit-capable broadband connection, a huge increase from just six per cent in 2019.
In Cumbria, the roll-out of the Project Gigabit contract continues to make good progress, with residents and businesses in communities from Aspatria to Staveley now able to access and enjoy lightning-fast connections through Fibrus networks.
Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said: “Ultra-fast, reliable broadband is transforming the way we connect with each other and do business, and creating exciting opportunities in the UK’s growing telecoms industry. These apprentices kick-starting their careers here at Newton Rigg are just the first who will be gaining the skills and expertise to take up good jobs and help accelerate the rollout of high speed broadband in Cumbria.”
Project Gigabit will also help grow the economy, with new digital infrastructure delivering better paid jobs and creating opportunities across the country. At Newton Rigg, Tom Balcombe, a 32-year-old from nearby Penrith, said he is excited to start his training: “During COVID I got a job in security, working at a supermarket in Penrith. But I had been looking for a new career path, and I already knew a little about working in telecoms.
“At the end of this programme I want to go out and do overhead cabling and splicing fibre. I am looking forward to gaining a trade – you can never go wrong if you have a trade. This training has piqued my interest massively and it’s a huge game changer.”
Linda McMillan, chief people officer at Fibrus, said: “Broadband connectivity is more important than ever and is crucial to levelling up rural communities to give those in rural areas the same opportunities as those in bigger cities. We are proud of how our full fibre broadband roll-out is progressing in Cumbria, and when we invest in a region, we ensure we go beyond providing much needed affordable high speed broadband.”
Claire McCay, HR director at Viberoptix, said: “We know the history of Newton Rigg College and we’re proud to be able to bring a training facility back to the site, offering training and development and job opportunities to the local community.
“Our aim is to build for the future, not just building a fibre network, but helping people build their careers and futures in the telecoms industry.”