Following millions of pounds of investment from the Government, the first cohort of Cumbrian apprentices are now in training for telecoms jobs.
Announced by Building Digital UK and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, broadband provider Fibrus, alongside network build partner Viberoptix, have committed to creating at least 90 apprenticeships covering a range of roles from underground and overhead cabling to surveying – as part of a £108 million government investment to provide lightning-speed broadband connectivity throughout Cumbria and level-up the county’s digital infrastructure.
What is Project Gigabit
Project Gigabit is the Government’s flagship £5 billion programme to enable hard-to-reach communities to access lightning-fast gigabit-capable broadband. It targets homes and businesses that are not included in broadband suppliers’ commercial plans, reaching parts of the UK that might otherwise miss out on getting the digital connectivity they need.
The Government claims that the fast, reliable connections delivered by Project Gigabit will level-up mostly rural and remote communities across the UK, as well as tackling pockets of poor connectivity in urban areas. Working with broadband suppliers to achieve 85% gigabit coverage of the UK by 2025, and then to nationwide coverage by 2030, project Gigabit seeks to grow the economy, with new digital infrastructure delivering better-paid jobs and creating opportunity right across the country.
More than 77% of homes and businesses can now access a gigabit-capable broadband connection, a huge increase from just 6% in 2019. As Curia revealed in a report last year, investment in gigabit infrastructure has a range of economic and social benefits for rural areas.
Project Gigabit in Cumbria
Work has started to connect tens of thousands of people living and working in rural Cumbria to lightning-fast broadband thanks to more than £100 million of government investment. In a huge boost for jobs and skills across Cumbria, Sir John Whittingdale OBE MP, Minister of State for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries and Minister of State (Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure) announced today that around 60,000 premises in the county will be connected to the fastest broadband on the market after Belfast-based supplier Fibrus.
In Cumbria, the rollout of the Project Gigabit contract continues to make good progress, with residents and businesses in communities from Aspatria to Staveley now able to access and enjoy lightning-fast connections through Fibrus networks.
Local residents have now commenced their apprenticeships at the brand new Viberoptix Training Academy in Penrith following an extensive refit of the one-time agricultural training college. Over the autumn, the trainees will gain formal telecoms qualifications, alongside in-class training specific to telecoms and field-based experience, equipping them with the skills and expertise needed to take up long-term careers in the industry. At the end, the Government has stated that all trainees will be offered permanent employment.
The commencement of Project Gigabit-funded apprenticeships comes as new independent research highlights the multitude of positive impacts a lightning-fast broadband connection can make to business. The Superfast Broadband Programme, which precedes Project Gigabit, was delivered in partnership with local councils in England, and by the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive.
An independent evaluation, published today, shows that annual turnover of businesses covered by the programme area increased between 2012 and 2021, creating an annual turnover boost of around £2.6 billion in these areas by 2021. The programme as a whole was estimated to have led to 23,700 more local jobs up to March 2021.
Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said that ultra-fast and reliable broadband is transforming communication, business and posing opportunities in the UK’s growing telecoms industry. “These apprentices kick-starting their careers are just the first who will be gaining the skills and expertise to take up good jobs and help accelerate the rollout of high-speed broadband in Cumbria” Whittingdale asserted.
Linda McMillan, Chief People Officer at Fibrus pointed to the important role broadband connectivity plays in levelling up rural communities. McMillian explained how Fibrus is proud of its full fibre broadband rollout and that the enrolment of the first apprentices demonstrate “a testament to our commitment to local communities” as alongside broadband connection, support to the region is being provided through community grants, job creation and training opportunities.
Claire McCay, HR Director at Viberoptix, said “our aim is to build for the future, not just building a fibre network” as she referenced helping people to build their careers in the telecoms industry.
This announcement demonstrates positive news for levelling up the UK as not only will the outcomes of digital inclusion benefit communities, but the job opportunities through the rollout of gigabit in Cumbria seem to be hopeful.
However, the Government must still address the nation-wide drop in apprenticeships and traineeships. As the County Councils Network (CCN) reported, that councils are calling on the Government to ‘fast track’ more county devolution deals to kick-start an adult education revolution as data shows a decline in almost 200,000 people taking part in adult apprenticeships and education in the last five years.
Curia’s Levelling Up Commission
The Levelling Up Commission intends to consider ways to implement the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper and subsequent Bill from the perspective of local and regional government. Too often the Levelling Up agenda is something being done ‘to and for’ local and regional government, the Commission intends to make sure it is done ‘with and by’ them.
Through roundtable meetings with MPs and senior leaders of local and regional government from across the UK, quantitative data analysis and regional sprints, the Commission intends to set out a series of recommendations to consider how regional inequalities can be reduced from the perspective of public services in four key areas:
Health and Social Care
Housing and Homelessness
Education, Skills and Training
Crime, Justice and Rehabilitation