Feb 21, 2019 Last Updated 2:53 PM, Feb 5, 2019

Crushing the skills shortage

Published in Upfront
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With a population of less than 140,000 people and the mainland a ferry ride away, the Isle of Wight has struggled to close the engineering skills gap for years. So, with this in mind, the Isle of Wight College and GKN Aerospace wanted to build a facility that would create a world-class engineering workforce on the island, enticing students into the industry and holding onto the talent once training had been completed.


The £11m Centre of Excellence for Composites, Advanced Manufacturing and Marine (CECAMM) – funded by the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) – was completed in early April 2017, ready for the new autumn term starting the following September.

Leading property, construction and infrastructure consultancy Pick Everard delivered full multi-disciplinary services for the employer-led training facility – designing the building as well as acting as the quantity surveyor, project manager and mechanical and electrical engineer.

Rod Burton, Partner at Pick Everard, said: “Both the island and college struggle to attract students and then retain them due to the draw of the mainland. The college wanted to provide a facility to give students apprenticeships, training and good job prospects.”

Debbie Lavin, Principal of the Isle of Wight College, added: “We wanted to give the existing and future workforce of the island the skills local employers need in order to grow and prosper the modern economy, as well as encouraging new businesses to locate and invest in the island.”

The brief

According to a report released by the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce in February 2018, the island currently has a “low-skill, low-wage economy”. East Cowes, where the CECAMM is located, also ranks among the most deprived coastal towns in southern England.

The college approached Pick Everard in early 2014 with the view to create an educational centre to train the next generation of engineers to help assure sustainable long-term economic success for local people and the island as a whole.

The centre needed to be sustainable and practical while being bright and attractive enough to entice young people to study and start their careers there.

Debbie continued: “Based on employer feedback, we knew the college needed to expand its capacity and increase its engineering curriculum offering in order to meet the needs of young people, businesses and the island economy.

“There are a large number of engineering companies on the Isle of Wight, and many are moving away from traditional manufacturing techniques and adopting more advanced technologies such as robotics and automation. CECAMM was essential to provide upskilling opportunities for the island’s existing workforce and to create a pipeline of highly-skilled, advanced manufacturing engineers ready to enter the workforce.”

Meeting the brief

Once funding had been secured, work to build the centre – which provides 3157m² of high-quality teaching facilities and flexible workshops for up to 547 engineering students – started on site in early 2016.

Rod said: “We achieved a BREEAM design rating of ‘Very Good’ by incorporating sustainable solutions – such as rainwater attenuation and optimised use of daylighting – within the design.

“Pick Everard’s interior design team were also heavily involved – if you look inside the centre, there are lots of vibrant colours, yellow in particular, and one of the main internal walls has a stunning feature motif running along it. It was all about providing an attractive environment that would inspire young people and keep them enthused.

“The workshop spaces are bright and airy too. Normally, people expect these places to be grubby and uninspiring, but we’ve created interesting roof spaces, with the piping and lighting exposed – you can see how the mechanical and electrical engineering side of it works, allowing students to buy into the engineering environment, as well as experiencing excellent acoustic qualities.”

Debbie added: “This world-class facility is intended to meet the needs of our prestigious island employers and offers students a broad experience of engineering skills, designed to support them building careers and maintaining the reputation of the island as a focal point of engineering excellence.

“As such, the design of the building and its content was fundamental to supporting that vision, and I am delighted that it is achieving those aims.”


The college, GKN Aerospace and Pick Everard had to undertake a lot of preliminary work in order to secure funding – building up a cost plan, submitting the application, presenting the plans and providing drawings.

Rod said: “Starting to work on a project that may not have come to fruition was a risk, but we had faith in the scheme and, as we had a long-term relationship with the college, having completed three schemes for them before, we were happy to do so.

“Funding wasn’t confirmed until some way down the project path and, once the funds were secured, work had to start pretty much instantaneously as we only had 21 months to complete the centre from confirmation of funding.” The site was acquired from the Homes and Communities Agency and presented a particular challenge in terms of drainage.

Rod added: “The surface water was a particular challenge, resulting in the design and construction of swales in poor ground conditions as well as attenuation tanks. In addition, the final ground levels of the site were modelled to maximise the site’s surface water storage capacity to minimise the risk of the building itself flooding.

“Due to the nature of the client’s requirements, which also had to accommodate the requirements of local employers, the project also challenged the design team from the outset, particularly the mechanical and electrical engineers. They had to work to very exacting standards when producing specifications for the specialist equipment needed, as well as space planning to position the various items of equipment in the most efficient and workable way.

“But this was overcome by us supporting the college with workshops and general liaison with local employers. We also looked in detail at how the curriculum was going to be delivered to ensure that spaces for effective educational purposes were produced and the required services were provided in the right places, allowing for sufficient flexibility to provide an appropriate degree of future-proofing.”


More than 460 further education, primary school, secondary school, higher education and adult students, as well as 158 apprentices employed by local businesses, have benefitted from the CECAMM Centre – situated at Whippingham Technology Park, East Cowes – in its first year.

The facility – which won a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) [IW] and IW Society Design and Conservation Award – provides for a wide range of students studying from foundation level to higher education programmes, including degrees, in many engineering-related disciplines. It delivers full- and part-time programmes to young people and adults, including apprenticeships and full-cost courses.

Rod said: “This new facility will contribute to a sustainable, long-term economic development on the island, hopefully continuing to encourage young students to seek their career path here.”

Debbie added: “Students and employers have all agreed that, in operation, the facility more than meets the very high expectations it was conceived for. It is a wonderful place to work and study, and I am proud of it and all who contributed to it being here.”

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