Ballymena’s manufacturing academy helping to improve employability

Students who have successfully completed the intensive five-week training programme at Ballymena’s Manufacturing Excellence Academy, delivered by Northern Regional College with funding from The Gallaher Trust and support from Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force, say it will improve their employability.

By Claire Cartmill
Monday, 3rd January 2022, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 1:06 pm
Pictured alongside Northern Regional College staff, Christine Brown, VP Teaching and Learning, Alan Reid and Eoin Mc Gahan who helped deliver the Manufacturing Academy programme are Ian Paisley, Graham Whitehurst and the participants that completed the Manufacturing Excellence Academy
Pictured alongside Northern Regional College staff, Christine Brown, VP Teaching and Learning, Alan Reid and Eoin Mc Gahan who helped deliver the Manufacturing Academy programme are Ian Paisley, Graham Whitehurst and the participants that completed the Manufacturing Excellence Academy

Northern Regional College developed and delivered the training for the Academy, which was established with funding from The Gallaher Trust with support from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Manufacturing Task Force.

The Academy’s programme was specifically designed to help boost participants’ employability in the local manufacturing sector. Outlining the programme content, Alan Reid, Northern Regional College’s Principal Lecturer with responsibility for industry engagement, explained that participants were introduced to a range of generic manufacturing processes, standard operating and assembly procedures that are applicable across the sector.

“Participants had an opportunity to develop their knowledge in a range of areas including health and safety regulations, inspection and quality assurance principles, working to set specifications, correct use of tools and machinery, fundamentals of computer-controlled equipment and lean and continuous improvement techniques,” he explained.

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Ian Paisley, chair of The Gallaher Trust and Graham Whitehurst, chair of Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force are the participants that completed the Manufacturing Excellence Academy

The programme included guest speakers and industrial visits, but the main source of learning was a work-based project to give participants an opportunity to put their newly acquired skills and knowledge into practice. There was also a focus on generic skills such as communication, team working, interview skills and CV building to help successful participants consider a career change and secure employment in the manufacturing sector.

Allen McMullin, from Cullybackey, who had worked as an architectural technician in Belfast, was looking for work nearer home: “There are a lot of manufacturing openings locally so I thought it would definitely be worth exploring the opportunities with the Academy.”

With five interviews already lined up with a variety of local manufacturing companies, Allen said he would “definitely recommend” the Academy.

“It has given me a good understanding of what’s available locally in the manufacturing sector and this will help me feel more confident when I’m being interviewed,” he said, adding that the skills developed during the five week programme are transferable and would help with a variety of job roles, such as roles available in the area as a fabricator or CNC operator.

Niall Jones, who previously worked as a carpenter, also has job interviews lined up: “The Academy has been great. I’ve enjoyed learning about the different areas of manufacturing, especially robotics. It was very interesting and I’m really glad I applied for it.”

Graham Whitehurst MBE, Chair of Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force, said that despite the very challenging environment that the manufacturing companies have been operating in, there is a need and a local demand for a skilled manufacturing workforce.

He continued: “We have been working proactively with local employers to identify skills gaps and as a result, in partnership with Northern Regional College and The Gallaher Trust, developed a manufacturing training programme in line with industry requirements.

“The Manufacturing Excellence Academy is a ‘win-win’ for everyone: employers have access to a growing pool of skilled ‘work ready’ employees; participants are paid to improve their employability and career prospects; and, with the potential to train up to 60 employees over three years with the necessary skills and knowledge of manufacturing to secure employment in this important sector, it will help secure the future growth of manufacturing in Ballymena.

“The Manufacturing Excellence Academy is a ‘win-win’ for everyone: employers have access to a growing pool of skilled ‘work ready’ employees; participants are paid to improve their employability and career prospects; and, with the potential to train 60 employees over three years with the necessary skills and knowledge of manufacturing to secure employment in this important sector, it will help secure the future growth of manufacturing in Ballymena.”

Ian Paisley MP, chair of the Gallaher Trust also added: “One of our main missions at The Gallaher Trust is to work alongside our delivery partners to support projects that create jobs and develop the skills of adults living within the wider Ballymena community.

“Earlier this year, we launched the Northern Ireland Hospitality School of Excellence, which aims to boost the skills of those working within the hospitality sector and give them an opportunity to secure employment with three local hoteliers. The Hospitality School has seen great success so far and we’re striving to replicate this by boosting our local manufacturing sector and ensuring that those who wish to work within the industry have the skills and knowledge they need. By committing funds to the Manufacturing Excellence Academy, we hope that this will go a long way to bolstering the sector and will prevent any further ‘brain drain’ from the area. We extend best wishes to the students for their upcoming job interviews.”

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