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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

NRC welcomes “life-long learning opportunities” with launch of Hydrogen Training Academy

Pictured (L-R): Mel Higgins, Principal and Chief Executive of Northern Regional College, Brian Hood, Managing Director of BS Holdings Ltd, Gordon Lyons, Minister for the Economy, Councillor William McCaughey, Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Paul McCormack, Innovation Manager at Belfast Met and Graham Whitehurst, MBE, Chair of Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force.

Northern Regional College will play an important role in Northern Ireland’s first ever Hydrogen Training Academy which has been officially launched by Minister for the Economy, Gordon Lyons MLA.

The new Ballymena-based Academy will support the development of a skilled workforce to take full advantage of emerging hydrogen and cleantech opportunities. It is being led by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, having secured a public-private investment of £700,000 from the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund, the Department for Communities Covid-Revitalisation Fund and EP UK Investments.

Welcoming the launch of the Academy, Mel Higgins, Principal and Chief Executive of Northern Regional College, said it would create “life-long learning opportunities”. He explained how the College would be involved in training or the Academy, along with Belfast Met, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.

He said:

“Our staff are currently being trained online by the University of Birmingham and they will then pass their skills onto trainees from Level 2 all the way up to Level 7, allowing progression through the range of qualifications.

“This programme will allow people to enter the workforce and upskill themselves for life-long learning opportunities and fill a skills gap across various industries.”

A consortium of key industry players involved in the Academy includes Wrightbus, Energia, Translink, Firmus, and EP UK Investments.

Academy trainees will have access to a new state-of-the-art training pod based at Silverwood Business Park. The H2 Gas Safe Lab is the first of two Academy training facilities for the Ballymena area and is targeted at the NI Gas Safe Register plumbing and heating industry to provide a competence testing space for work with commercial level equipment. It is the first mixed-gas hydrogen-testing lab in the UK for Gas Safe engineers, with multiple systems to help reduce carbon footprints in houses and offices.

The second training facility housed at Northern Regional College will focus on the production of hydrogen through specialist training equipment. It will provide a technology familiarisation teaching space for all levels in the basics of green hydrogen.

Speaking at its launch, Minister for the Economy Gordon Lyons MLA welcomed the ‘revolutionary project’, which he said will support the development of a skilled workforce to take full advantage of hydrogen and cleantech opportunities.

He said: “The Hydrogen Training Academy is a first-of-its-kind project which will enable Northern Ireland to fully maximise opportunities associated with hydrogen as the emerging leading sustainable energy solution.”

Minister Lyons continued: “By supporting our wider ambitions for a greener future through the delivery of a range of crucial entry-level introductory training across several sectors, including energy, transport, gas, manufacturing and engineering, it is an incredibly exciting time to be able to be involved in such an initiative.

“The Hydrogen Training Academy aligns with a number of current policy initiatives, including the Department’s 10X Economic Strategy, the UK’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and Clean Growth Strategy, as well as our recently-launched Path to Net Zero energy strategy, which sets out a vision of net zero affordable energy. These investments in clean energy will help grow the green economy and reduce Northern Ireland’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.”

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor William McCaughey said:

“The announcement of this revolutionary Hydrogen Training Academy is welcome and timely, particularly as we heighten our focus on creating and sustaining long term economic recovery and growth in the aftermath of a global pandemic.

“Mid and East Antrim is uniquely placed in Northern Ireland in terms of the key strengths and assets we boast in energy and cleantech that align with the ambition of net zero carbon targets. The Academy will support the development of the Ballymena area as a ‘hydrogen hub’ and continue to build upon our Borough’s reputation as a centre of excellence and the main focal point of the emerging Northern Ireland wide hydrogen economy.”

“The announcement along with future plans for investment in the i4C Innovation and Cleantech Centre at St. Patrick’s Barracks and the recent announcement of £15 million joint funding with QUB under the Northern Ireland Executive’s City and Growth Deals Complementary Fund for a Ballymena Integrated Green Hydrogen Hub further supports and cements our ambition.”

Graham Whitehurst MBE, Chair of Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force, explained how the Hydrogen Training Academy will play a “critical role” in training and upskilling existing employees as well as new trainees to a recognised professional competence standard required for the hydrogen sector.

“Through the Hydrogen Training Academy and a range of other initiatives, led by our Manufacturing Task Force, Mid and East Antrim is cementing its position as a hub for SME innovation and commercialisation activity and a springboard for the future of the cleantech growth sector and industry.”


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