Rail apprenticeship scheme in Leicester – programmes like this must be the future for our young people

“We couldn’t have designed this better if we’d started with a blank sheet of paper.  We would not have thought this possible a couple of years ago when the building stood empty. ”   These were the words of Leicester’s Deputy Mayor, Rory Palmer, as we were shown round the Greenacres centre on the edge of the city, now run by Great Central Railway, and attracting a deal of media attention.

Greenacres is a community centre/facility which stood empty for four years, as the organisation which developed it ran into financial difficulties.

Now, following an agreement signed between Great Central Railway and the City council, the building provides new visitor facilities, including a restaurant, at the Great Central Railway’s Leicester North station.

Impressive enough in itself, but GCR have also leased part of the buildings to Vital Skills Training Academy, one of the largest apprenticeship and learning providers in the UK for the rail industry.  17 apprentices have already started, rising to 32 shortly.

Jack and Ollie are two of the apprentices and I had a chance to talk to them.  They told me how they’d both been made redundant from previous jobs – one worked with wooden window frames and the other was a shop fitter.  They were delighted with the opportunity for good training within the rail industry, and that their futures now looked so much brighter.

The provision of railway industry apprenticeships in the area links not only to Great Central Railway, but also to the recent announcement of investment in the Midland Mainline and the presence of rail manufacturing in Derby.

Youth unemployment is the scourge of Britain as well as Europe more generally.  Apprenticeship schemes like the one I saw yesterday have to be the future for our young people.

My thanks to Bill Ford, Managing Director of Great Central Railway, and his staff,  Rob Clark from Vital Skills Training Academy, and, of course, Jack & Ollie and the other apprentices for a really impressive visit.

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