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Bridgwater and Taunton College scoops top skills innovation and apprenticeship awards

Bridgwater and Taunton College’s National College for Nuclear (NCfN) Southern Hub has beaten competition from big multi-nationals to win a top award for its use of cutting-edge technology.

The college team won the Skills Innovation of the Year category at the Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance (Semta) Skills Awards, beating stiff competition from Jaguar Land Rover and Toyota Manufacturing.

The Skills Innovation of the Year category examined the ways in which organisations have harnessed the latest technology to improve their delivery of skills training and the positive impact this has had on the workforce.

A virtual reality flow rig used as part of the training.

The college’s entry detailed the innovative work it is carrying out at the NCfN to address the urgent need for large numbers of skilled technicians to deliver the UK’s civil nuclear programme.

Recognising that unskilled and unqualified staff cannot practice in a live nuclear power plant, the college has used virtual reality simulation to recreate a ‘live’ installation within the NCfN, meaning that those new to the sector or considering a career in nuclear can see, as if at first hand, what the inside of a nuclear power plant looks like.

Working in teams on ‘live’ work-based projects, they assimilate and practise new skills in complete safety, while also coming to understand the protocols and behaviours so important to nuclear safety.

The technology was previously only available to those already working in nuclear, and the potential benefits are vast. It can be replicated many times, and the college is already supporting other colleges with proposed nuclear developments on their doorstep.

The winners were announced at the Semta Skills Awards ceremony on Thursday, 21 March, at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel, London.

Meanwhile, the college further added to its tally of awards, winning the Apprenticeship Programme of the Year Award at the annual Tes FE Awards 2019.

Tes FE Apprenticeship of the Year Award winners.

The judges noted the college had moved quickly to help develop the skills apprentices would need to pursue a career at nearby Hinkley Point C power station.

The college, which is half an hour’s drive from the power station, is training 300 apprentices over a three-year period. This is in collaboration with construction company Bylor, a joint venture between British and French firms which is responsible for the main civil engineering contract at the site.

There are currently only 600 steel fixers in the UK – with an average age of 56 – so the college’s training is helping to fill an acute skills gap. And as well as meeting a national need, it’s also helping local people in and around Somerset find secure, full-time employment.

The judges said the college had demonstrated innovation in its response to the skills needs of the major development on its doorstep.

They added: “Bridgwater and Taunton College has risen to the challenge investing in new capabilities at the college, along with the development of new national qualifications to support the needs of industry.”

Winners attended a black-tie event at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, hosted by the stand-up comedian, writer and presenter Dave Gorman.

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