THE ROYAL Navy and BAE Systems have officially unveiled their new Thunderer Workshop for training engineering apprentices at Portsmouth Naval Base.
A key focus of the initiative is to provide an increased skilled labour force to meet the naval base’s growing demand for engineers.
Barry Woolley, operations director for warship support, said: ‘The investment in improved facilities will enable enhanced training and support the retention of key skills within ship engineering. We will maximise the benefits and opportunities that this new development provides in support of the naval base mission - getting ships to sea on time, to cost and in the right condition.’
Opening the new Thunderer Workshop facility was Rear Admiral Richard Thompson, chief of naval engineering.
Admiral Thompson said: ‘The UK as a whole has a shortage of engineers and the navy is vying for their services. This is a phenomenal facility for apprentices to train. We need to get people form all different backgrounds interested in learning STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) and the potential of engineering as a career. The navy has a pivotal role to play in this.’
‘We will soon have two aircraft carriers arriving in Portsmouth and for the first time in 30 years the navy is growing in size. It is important we have a base fit to support this,’ added Naval Base Commander, Jim Higham.
Commodore Higham also explained that the increased efficiency of the new facility could potentially save up to £1m a year.
The £10.3m investment included £2.5m from BAE Systems, £1.8m from Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, with the remaining finance provided by the Ministry of Defence.
LEP director Rachael Randall said: ‘Engineering is a known area of skill shortage and we are very keen to improve the situation locally.’
‘I am glad to see the country has woken up to the fact we need apprentices once again,’ added Admiral Thompson.
The new workshop was built on the site of a former steel production hall and has taken three years to complete. Covering an area of 13,000 square metres and 153 metres in length, the workshop allows engineering apprentices to train with some of the industry’s most advanced machinery. Apprentices have the opportunity to develop skills such as sheet metal work, mechanical fitting and pipe work.
Operations lead for workshops, Steven Anderson, said: ‘This is a massive improvement. The workshop is bright, clean and includes all the latest equipment. It is an environment in which people want to come and work. It is important to attract new apprentices as with two carriers coming down, additional skilled people will be required.’
Engineering apprentice, Sophie Stewart, added: ‘Compared to the old workshop the equipment is much better. We now have a water jetter which can be used for cutting.’
In addition to training new engineers, the navy also hope to use the facility to generate additional income.
‘What excites me is the potential for future commercial opportunities. The marine industry is a big part of Portsmouth and there is the opportunity to work with outside contractors to increase revenue,’ explained Commodore Higham.
‘This is a hugely important development which secures the future of Portsmouth Dockyard for the next 50 years,’ added Admiral Thompson.