North East leaders are confident Newcastle College can provide a workforce of the future.

Speaking at the official opening of Industry Week 2019, at the College’s Rail and Civil Engineering Academy, the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Andy McDonald assured staff and students that Labour remains committed to delivering sustained investment in transport.

“Investment in our transport infrastructure is critically important,” he said. “And the issue of climate change is directly linked to our transport infrastructure – it’s going to come into even sharper focus when Labour is in power.

“We have to encourage a shift from cars to mass public transport. It’s the biggest challenge facing all of us right now. Transport is the greatest source of emissions in the North East. Changing that here and everywhere is critical to saving the planet.

“The UK rail industry hasn’t been efficient for many years now and it gets worse the further north you travel.

“But as a party we’re absolutely committed to sustained investment in the rail industry. There’s a real determination to get this right.

“The positive thing is that the next generation is looking forward to long and full careers in the rail industry. I’d expect the people studying at Newcastle College’s Rail and Civil Engineering Academy to be part of this industry for 30 to 40 years.”

Mr McDonald was backed up by friend and colleague Ian Mearns, who is adamant a region with a rich history in the rail industry is well placed to meet the challenges of the future.

“I look at the Rail and Civil Engineering Academy in Gateshead – I’ve visited the facility four or five times now – and I’m convinced we have a ready-made workforce able to meet the needs of the industry in the future,” said the MP for Gateshead and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for rail.

“When the tap does start to turn on in terms of rail investment across the North East we will have the skilled people here capable of making that investment work.

“If the Newcastle College students work hard and apply themselves then they will have access to so many exciting opportunities in the rail industry. Nobody doubts the importance of transport infrastructure and it’s a fantastic industry to be a part of.”

Tia Jones, from Carr Hill in Gateshead, is four years into her education at the Rail and Civil Engineering Academy and the 19-year-old said: “I get a well-rounded insight into all aspects of the rail industry and civil engineering.

“I wanted to go into engineering and my teacher at the time suggested take a look at Newcastle College and what they could offer. The people are great and it’s very different to any learning environment I’ve been used to in the past. In terms of gaining industry experience it’s unique.”

Fellow student Tait McKenna, 19, from Ryton already has one eye on a management role within the rail industry. And he added: “I came to a Newcastle College open evening four years ago and I remember my mum nagging me to choose something. Joining the Academy turned out to be the best decision I could have made.

“Pretty quickly we were doing practical stuff and that’s what I love. I’d like to become an engineering supervisor and move into a management role in the long term.”

Stevie Shiel, Head of Rail and Civil Engineering at Newcastle College, introduced a week-long programme of rail industry-focused events by challenging students to meet the needs of future employers and embrace their learning journey.

“This is an excellent facility and we have the opportunity to expand,” he said. “We’re trying to get the message across to students that by being prepared and punctual they will be an attractive proposition to prospective employers.

“Industry Week is a big part of that. It’s designed to support and shape the career goals and the aspirations that our students may have.

“We have planned a week of hands-on activities and tasks that will inspire the students and enable them to look to the future with confidence.”

The Newcastle College Rail and Civil Engineering Academy opened in 2014 in partnership with local authorities, industry employers and the sector skills council. It forms part of the College’s Transport Academy, which was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for vocational education in 2018.

The £5m facility, the first of its kind in the North East, offers a unique training environment to help the railway industry meet its skill shortages by providing a range of specialist training dedicated to rail infrastructure.

Its Industry Week programme is delivered in conjunction with Network Rail, Nexus  and other engineering employers from across the region.