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Viewpoint | Another door to skilling our future closes as National infra-skills college to closes

The National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure (NCATI) to close at end of July.

Originally launched by the government in 2017 as the National College of High Speed Rail, with buildings that could accommodate up to 3,200 students The National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure (NCATI is to shut down next month after failing to become viable.

NCATI is the second of England’s five national colleges to dissolve since their launch in 2016.

Its remit was to deliver the skills needed for the construction of HS2. But with a tiny number of students enrolling and a funding shortfall emerging within its first years of operation it soon found itself in a state of demise.

Closing by the end of July, the college has just 49 students on its books plus 119 affiliated apprentices.

In total 42 staff will also lose their jobs.

Interim principal and chief executive Lowell Williams said: “Unfortunately, we have been unable to identify a sustainable future for NCATI as a direct deliverer of education, and therefore we have made the difficult decision to discontinue delivery of learning.”

After being handed an an ‘inadequate’ rating in 2019by OFSTEAD in 2019 the college tried to block the inspectorate’s report.

NCATI was rebranded in 2019 to broaden its appeal, and it became part of the University of Birmingham in 2021.

Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, told Construction News: “The college was a brilliant facility that unfortunately struggled to get traction with employers and new learners.

“We must learn the lessons from this so that any future, similar facilities are developed with clear support from industry to deliver the broad skills needed by infrastructure, giving flexibility to ensure resilience where demand for individual roles does not materialise.”

Construction Products Association economics director Noble Francis pointed the finger at the government in a post on LinkedIn.

He said: “The government’s persistent delays and failure of delivery in the rail infrastructure sector have real consequences. Government can spend millions on new, stylish facilities for training young people to build high-speed rail, but if the government doesn’t deliver on its announcements of projects then companies cannot commit to investing in people, so it all just gets wasted and has to close.”

Earlier this week, the Sunday Times in an article entitled British Fail : How HS2 bungles forced a new college for rail engineers to close its doors reported a source from the body saying that recent announcements to delay the delivery of sections of HS2 did not tally with having a unit to accelerate projects.

Julie Owen, acting Chief Executive at Siemens also said,

“What we need most from Governments is certainty, once you have announced a plan stick to it.”

Another senior source within the rail industry said that the colleges closure was,

“Symptomatic of the government’s failure on HS2.”

“Years of dither and delay have ravaged UK industry and without urgent action companies will begin to question their investment.”

David Fell, chief executive of the Doncaster Chamber of Commerce, one of the locations now to be axed under the plans said,

“The loss of the college will be felt beyond the rail companies,” pointing out that the closure will have a massive impact on a high number of young locals looking for engineering careers.

A DfT spokesperson said the unit had been “reorganised” rather than axed, adding that its functions would continue to aid project delivery.

Yet questions and uncertainties remain, for the students and staff, at a time of great uncertainty, when opportunities to find a career seem to be at a premium.

Author: Kevin Robinson, Project Director, Rising Stars

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