Hitachi is engaged in a concerted skills development programme in the North East as it prepares to build a new train factory.
Around 730 people will eventually be employed at the plant in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham and there will also be a research and development department at the site.
Hitachi will use the factory to build a new fleet of inter-city trains to replace the veteran HSTs that have been in service since the 1970s, so the company wants to enlarge the local ‘pool’ of school-leavers and adults with the right qualifications and skills.
Hitachi has just signed the contract for construction and fit-out of the plant with preferred bidder Merchant Place Developments.
This will be Hitachi’s first train factory in Europe, representing an £82m investment and backed by a £4m grant by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The site was chosen because it has good access by road, rail and ship and a highly skilled workforce in the vicinity.
Initially Super Express Trains for the Great Western Main Line and the East Coast Main Line will be built at Newton Aycliffe, but the plant will be laid out to build other train types for Britain and Europe, including metro and double-decker trains and, potentially, the Crossrail rolling stock if Hitachi should win that order.
Even before the foundations are laid, manufacturing plant manager Darren Cumner is preparing his recruitment campaign. Speaking at the Railtex trade show in London, he told E&T that he is speaking to local schools and universities about their curricula, as well placing advertisements in Darlington and Bishop Auckland Colleges to tell students what kind of skills Hitachi will be looking for.
He is also having talks with Nissan and other regional employers about upskilling initiatives to increase the pool of skilled labour and avoid a destructive round of “poaching”.
“You have to remember that this is still a craft business,” he said. “We’re not manufacturing in automotive volumes.”
An archaeological exploration is currently under way at the factory site. Construction is due to start at the end of 2013, with the factory scheduled to go into production in 2016. The Super Express Trains will go into full passenger service in 2017.
Alistair Dormer, executive chairman and chief executive officer of Hitachi Rail Europe, said: “By investing substantially in our train factory, we are creating employment opportunities for a large number of engineers and technicians in the North East of England, which has a strong tradition of engineering skills. We are keen to fill our order books, building trains here in the UK – for use in Britain and for exporting to continental Europe.”