Former Education Secretary Lord Baker of Dorking today urged Swindon businesses to get behind the town’s University Technology College (UTC) to help regenerate its engineering industry.
Lord Baker, who as Kenneth Baker had the education portfolio in John Major's Cabinet, visited the site of the UTC this afternoon to see for himself the progress being made.
UTC Swindon will cater for 600, 14 to 19 year olds interested in pursuing a career in engineering. It will open in September and will focus on engineering and entrepreneurship. Students will have the opportunity to gain skills relevant to careers in all aspects of the engineering sector.
Lord Baker, pictured with Craig Madders of builders BAM, who was also a long-standing member of Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet in the 1980s, is a high-profile supporter of UTCs. His educational trust, Baker Dearing Educational Trust, is a sponsor of the UTC programme across the country.
He said: “I came to Swindon two years ago and talked to local businesses. They told me that the schools in the town were not producing young people with the skills that are needed in the modern workplace.
“This college is the answer. Swindon's businesses need engineers who are equipped with modern skills.”
He said Swindon businesses such as Honda could become involved at all levels of the UTC, including their engineers taking lessons.
“Swindon has a proud engineering past,” he said. “This college will be an important part of its future as an engineering centre.”
No young person attending the UTC will face being unemployed, he said, as they will be able to continue their technical education or gain placements at local engineering and advanced manufacturing firms.
Lord Baker formed the Baker Dearing Educational Trust with former Post Office chairman Ron Dearing after a conversation five years ago.
Construction work on the £10m state-of-the-art building in Bristol Street in the heart of Swindon's Railway Village, started last November.
The old school building and the iconic water tower on the site – both Grade-II listed – will be key features of the college.
UTC principal Angela Barker-Dench gave Lord Baker a tour of the site this lunchtime before he met some of the 62 businesses which have already pledged to be involved in the college. Angela, who joined from Capel Manor College in Enfield last September, said the UTC would revolutionise vocational education in Swindon.
The UTC building project is being led by BAM Construction.
There are now 17 operational UTCs across the country and a further 50 are in the pipeline, Lord Baker said.