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Apprenticeships on the agenda

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‘Wales needs a robust skills and training framework’: William Graham, AM

‘Wales needs a robust skills and training framework’: William
Graham, AM

DEPUTY MINISTER Julie James has welcomed the findings of an Estyn report highlighting success in addressing diversity and equality in the training of apprenticeships. Ms James committed the Welsh Government to sharing the best practice identified in the report among providers of Work Based Learning.
Ms James said: “We are hugely proud of our Apprenticeship programme here in Wales which is providing individuals with the opportunity to develop valuable skills and ensuring our future workforce is equipped with the tools to prosper in the economy of the future.
“We are committed though, to ensuring that everyone is able to experience the many benefits that apprenticeships have to offer, regardless of their background which is why we commissioned this report by Estyn.
“We welcome Estyn’s report which is broadly positive and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure the recommendations are addressed.
“We will now press ahead with sharing good practice models on recruitment and continue to demonstrate the positive benefits to employers of having a more inclusive and diverse workforce”.
The minister also set out the Welsh Government’s future plans for apprenticeships during a keynote speech at the National Training Federation for Wales’ annual conference.
The plans include a focussed drive on increasing the number of sixteen to eighteen year olds starting apprenticeships, a keener emphasis on higher skilled apprenticeships, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector and better links between Further Education programmes and Apprenticeships.
The Deputy Minister also confirmed the UK Government’s introduction of an apprenticeship levy across the UK has influenced the Welsh Government’s decision to defer publication of an implementation plan for apprenticeships in Wales.
The apprenticeship levy, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a levy to be paid across the UK by all large employers including the public sector.
The Deputy Minister said: “We have developed an apprenticeships system that is well respected by employers, which offers the very best quality and the very best training. However, as our recent apprenticeship consultation revealed, there are areas where we can improve.
“There are too few sixteen to eighteen year olds starting apprenticeships. This has to change and that’s why we intend to re-focus our Young Recruits Programme to support additional sixteen to seventeen year old recruitment. Once we have put in place new plans for this age group, we would expect to see an increase to the six and half thousand places the network usually delivers.
“Many of our apprenticeships are also in sectors where the skills content is relatively low. This exacerbates the perception that apprenticeships are for those young people who are not capable of higher level skills.
“We must continue to grow apprenticeships in priority sectors and stretch them to meet emerging skill shortages in technical and highly skilled occupations, such as engineering and IT that will drive productivity.
“We have agreed to fund certain prescribed higher education qualifications when undertaken as part of a published Higher Apprenticeship framework. This will provide an additional stimulus to the employer market to kick start delivery in STEM related Higher Apprenticeships.
On the Welsh Government’s decision to defer publication of an implementation plan for apprenticeships in Wales the Deputy Minister said: “I am entirely supportive of the principle that employers should contribute towards the costs of apprenticeships. However, the levy proposals have been designed without consideration of the implications for the whole of the UK and encroach upon Wales’ devolved responsibilities.
“For all large employers in Wales the levy represents an additional tax burden. Up until now the UK Government has not provided any information on the potential impact on the Welsh budget, so at this point in time I’m unable to provide any assurances to employers.
“But what is clear about the levy is that it impedes our ability to craft our own policy. This is why I am deferring publication of an implementation plan for apprenticeships in Wales until more is known.”
The Welsh Conservatives have launched their own plan for apprenticeships, ‘Stronger Futures Cymru’, which they say would boost access and prioritise job creation for anyone of working age.
Accepting that apprenticeships and job-based learning play a vital role in developing an individual’s skills for the future whilst simultaneously helping businesses expand, the Welsh Conservatives say they would scrap the age cap and extend job duration, Introduce greater apprenticeship flexibility and boost promotion, and strengthen the ties between education, employment and the local business community. The Welsh Conservatives have suggested that the local business community could participate on school governing panels to advise on how best to integrate “work ready” skills into the curriculum.
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Economy, William Graham, said: “Stronger Futures Cymru is an ambitious vision for apprenticeships in Wales and will help to ensure that Wales has a workforce equipped with the skills they need to drive the economy forward.”

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Education

College to launch Energy Transition Skills Hub supported by Shell UK

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PEMBROKESHIRE COLLEGE says it is delighted to announce that it is working with Shell UK to develop an Energy Transition Skills Hub on the College site in Haverfordwest.

The Energy Transition Skills Hub is currently one of three supported by Shell UK and will focus on providing people with the skills and knowledge to find employment in renewable and low-carbon energy projects through an immersive and interactive learning experience.

The facility aims to train 600 individuals by July 2026, providing Pembrokeshire and West Wales with a pool of talent that will have knowledge and experience of control systems needed for projects such as offshore floating wind farms and the Haven hydrogen power plants.

With renewables and low-carbon technology high on the agenda, both locally and nationally, the facility comes at an important time for the energy sector.

The state-of-the-art onsite Control Room will enable training in control systems for a wide range of sectors including: Offshore Floating Wind; Hydrogen Plant; Solar PV; Tidal/Marine and gas power stations.

The programme is supported by Shell UK and the Swansea Bay City Deal Skills and Talent Fund and responds directly to the needs of local companies as well as those from further afield who are looking to invest in the region. The Hub, which is scheduled to open this summer, will also support the local community and schools by giving them the opportunity to understand more about how energy transition will impact the way we live and work in the future.

Arwyn Williams, Head of Faculty at Pembrokeshire College states: “We are delighted to be working with Shell UK on the development of the Control Room training facility. Many of our learners and those looking to upskill will benefit from understanding more about the control systems through practical experience. Having the capability to train people for emerging sectors such as Offshore Floating Wind and Hydrogen will give them a real advantage when the opportunities become available.”

Anthony Harte, Shell UK Social Impact Manager, says: “We are pleased to be working closely with Pembrokeshire College on the development of the Energy Transition Skills Hub. This will be one in a series of hubs across Britain that Shell UK is investing in, with a view to help upskill and train the workforce of the future. Shell UK ‘s Skills Transition Programme aims to help 15,000 people into jobs, with a focus on the energy transition by 2035. We want as many people as possible to benefit from the energy system of the future, so that the transition is an opportunity for all.”

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Education

Largest ever global air sampling maps fungal spread

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MUSHROOMS and other fungi spread their spores in a more localised way than once thought and more similar to how animals and plant species migrate, new research has found.

Published in the journal Nature, it is the largest ever global air sampling project and analyses how the climate affects the growth and spread of fungi.

The study used air samplers to collect airborne fungal spores at 47 locations on every continent apart from Antarctica over a two-year period.

Most fungi spread by releasing airborne spores and detection of these spores with air sampling can tell us when they are released and how far they travel.

Mapping of the global distribution of fungi can establish the ecological ranges of rare or threatened species to be observed. This allows us to detect changes in these patterns caused by climate change or habitat destruction.

It also means the spread of fungi which are potentially harmful to humans or crop plants can be monitored.

Fungi are essential to how ecosystems work but they are mostly invisible to the naked eye, so the factors determining their distribution and activity remain poorly understood.

It is estimated that there could be up to five million different species but most of these remain unknown.

For decades scientists debated which factors drive the distribution of fungi and other microbes.

It was originally believed that the long distance dispersal of fungi in the air meant they could reach all parts of the planet, but would only grow in suitable conditions.

This contrasts with animals and plants whose spread is more strictly limited by mountain ranges, seas and other geographical barriers.

However, the new research paper shows that the spread of fungi, like animals and plants, is determined by climatic factors, and that they too are distributed locally, not only in where they grow but in how their spores are spread.

Professor Gareth Griffith from the Department of Life Sciences at Aberystwyth University said: “Sampling of airborne DNA in the way we have for this study is a huge step forward in the understanding of the how fungi grow and disperse in different parts of the world. Overall, our results suggest that the factors that affect where microbes live and grow are similar to those determining the distribution of plants and animals.

“The very diverse kingdom of fungi follows globally highly predictable patterns. These patterns resemble those described for other major groups of organisms. This research makes a major contribution to that long-standing debate.”

The study found that species of airborne fungus found in different regions was most strongly affected by the mean annual air temperature of the site, with diversity and numbers increasing from the poles towards the Equator.

The results also confirms that temperature influences fungal reproduction and that spore release peaks when the wind speeds are high.

Professor Gareth Griffith from Aberystwyth University added:“Our results highlight the role of temperature as an underlying driver of fungal dispersal, with fungal diversity increasing with warmer climates and more spores being released on warmer days. This finding suggests that global climate change, and generally warming climates, will have a major role in restructuring fungal communities.

“Although previous large-scale studies of soil fungi have found clear effects of the climate on community composition, the fact that air temperature explains most of the variation in the distributions of fungi in our data is striking.”

Speaking about the significance of the air sampling, Academy Research Fellow Nerea Abrego, from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, said:

“Air is a real treasure trove for nature research; it is full of DNA from plants, fungi, bacteria, insects, mammals and other organisms. This knowledge is essential not only to understand where and when different fungal species thrive, but also to predict their fate under the ongoing global change.

“One particularly interesting subject for further research is a more detailed review of the sequences for fungi that are important to humans. These include fungal diseases of humans, crops and production animals, as well as fungi that indicate the progress of the loss of nature and the weakening of natural ecosystem processes.”

The Global Spore Sampling Project was funded through a number of bodies, including the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

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Education

Successful handover of Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Penfro

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THE HANDOVER of the new Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Penfro in Pembroke has been completed, with Gareth Rees, Project Manager with Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure Ltd handing the keys to the new school to Executive Headteacher Dafydd Hughes on July 8.

Following the award of the contract for the design and build of the new school, Morgan Sindall commenced work on the site in March 2023.

Rob Williams, Operations Director for Morgan Sindall said that it had been a privilege to work on such a landmark project, the school being the first in Pembrokeshire to be delivered meeting stringent Net Zero Carbon requirements.

He said: “It was brilliant to be a part of the project handover this week, it’s a fantastic school in such a beautiful location. We are very proud of the project and thank the Pembrokeshire County Council team for both the opportunity to deliver such a great project and for such an enjoyable collaborative approach to design and deliver a very sustainable Net Zero Carbon school with fantastic facilities. It really felt we formed one team. A big thank you to everyone involved.”

The Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Penfro building project has been funded by the Welsh Government through its Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme, and Pembrokeshire County Council, and will open in September 2024.

The school will provide full day-care for up to 36 children aged 0-11 years, a 30 place nursery, and capacity for up to 210 pupils (Reception to Year 6). Cllr. Guy Woodham, Cabinet Member for Education and the Welsh Language, said that he was delighted that this important project had been completed.

Cllr Woodham added: “This project represents a significant milestone in the Council’s delivery of its Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP), and I am very grateful that the hard work of officers and contractors has resulted in a new school which has been delivered on budget and on time, and which will be in a position to admit pupils for the first time in September 2024. As the Cabinet member with responsibility for Education and the Welsh language, I look forward to visiting Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Penfro during the autumn and seeing the school in operation at first hand.”

In receiving the keys to the new school, Mr Hughes said that Morgan Sindall, working alongside Pembrokeshire County Council’s project team, had produced an excellent educational facility and that it represented an exciting new chapter for Welsh medium education in Pembrokeshire.

“I know that the children who will be attending this school will greatly benefit from a truly 21st century learning environment, and those that will transfer from the Welsh stream at Ysgol Gelli Aur / Golden Grove School are extremely excited at the prospect of continuing their education at Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Penfro. Those children have been frequent visitors to the site during the construction period, and along with staff, have been welcomed wholeheartedly by the contractors.”

An open evening is being held at the school on Monday 15th July at 4.30pm, and this will be an opportunity for the local community to visit the school, and for prospective parents and their children to view the excellent facilities.

Pictured above: Representatives from Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure Ltd and Pembrokeshire County Council’s project team, with Executive Headteacher Mr Dafydd Hughes and Cllr. Aaron Carey, Chair of the Temporary Governing Body of Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Penfro, on the occasion of the handover of the school from contractor to the Council.

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