Wildanet Academy leads the way in apprenticeships for South West’s digital engineers of the future

South West broadband provider Wildanet is marking National Apprenticeships Week (5th - 11th February 2024) by celebrating the success of its new Technical Training Academy and apprenticeships programme which has welcomed 11 new apprentices in its first eight months.

The centre of excellence based at Wildanet’s Liskeard headquarters is providing industry-leading training for the next generation of telecommunication engineers and supporting the rollout of high-speed broadband to thousands of people living and working in rural Cornwall.

Wildanet was awarded £36 million in 2023 as part of the UK government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit programme to roll out new connections to around 19,250 homes and businesses in South West and Mid Cornwall.  Launched in the same year, the Wildanet Technical Training Academy and accompanying apprenticeship programme developed in partnership with Truro and Penwith College are a key commitment to delivering this and Wildanet’s wider commercial build taking place across Cornwall and Devon.

A trailblazing group of five apprentices became the first to join the Academy in July 2023, embarking on its new Telecoms Field Operative Apprenticeship programme. A further six apprentices swelled the ranks of the Academy when they joined in October.

Project Gigabit will help communities to seize the benefits of gigabit-capable networks and be ready for the future. It will allow users to work, stream and use multiple smart devices online without a battle against bandwidth and the disruption often experienced with ageing networks.

The investment in the region reflects the government’s commitment to level-up hard-to-reach communities across the UK by rolling out gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses that might otherwise miss out.

As a result of the two Project Gigabit contracts for South West and Mid Cornwall, Wildanet is creating many new jobs to support the rollout of the new Full Fibre network. This has included a range of skilled roles across the build operation - including network design, surveying and partner management - plus engineering and head office roles. There have also been many indirect opportunities for local companies such as civil contractors and through the supply chain.

Developing skills for both the Wildanet workforce and supply chain is a key element in this, and the Wildanet Technical Training Academy is a home-grown answer to providing the cutting-edge training facilities and programmes vital for the region’s digital future, social inclusion and economic growth, not previously available in Cornwall.

Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure Julia Lopez said: "We’re rolling out lightning-fast, gigabit-capable broadband across all corners of the country, and it’s vital we have the talent and expertise to help us deliver and maintain this connectivity revolution.

“What better way to mark National Apprenticeships week than by celebrating the success of the Wildanet Technical Training Academy as it brings forward that next wave of connectivity expertise and gives young people in the local area a kickstart in a thriving sector.

“With a £36 million investment in Wildanet through Project Gigabit, we're connecting 19,250 homes and businesses in South West and Mid Cornwall – delivering new opportunities both now and in the decades to come.”

Helen Wylde-Archibald, Wildanet CEO, said: “Wildanet was set up for both profit and purpose. When we launched Wildanet, we made a pledge to not only bridge the digital divide, but to also offer rewarding career opportunities for the communities that we serve and create a lasting legacy for future generations.

“The Academy and the apprenticeship scheme is at the heart of this pledge and its opening and early success is a milestone, not only for Wildanet but for Cornwall and the South West. The support from Project Gigabit has been instrumental in this.”

The Academy features a full suite of state-of-the-art equipment to train engineers in the theoretical and practical aspects of dealing with fibre installation, including network infrastructure and domestic installation; safely working with underground services and at height; and using microscope-based specialist equipment to splice and test individual strands of fibre optic cable.

It includes an industry-leading ‘pole field‘ – the only facility of its kind in the South West – where engineers can be safely trained in scaling and operating on utility (or telegraph) poles up to 9m (30ft) tall. It means for the first time, this type of training can be delivered in Cornwall, rather than having to travel out of the South West and sometimes as far afield as Lincoln.

The new Telecoms Field Operative Apprenticeship programme is a bespoke apprenticeship scheme developed in partnership with Truro and Penwith College. In addition to their time in the Academy and on-the-job training, apprentices also hone their skills at the College’s new multi-million-pound state-of-the-art STEM and Health Skills Centre in Bodmin.

Julie-anne Sunderland, Chief People Officer for Wildanet, has been instrumental in establishing the Wildanet Academy and in the development of the first apprenticeship programme. Julie-anne said: “It became clear to us early on that if we wanted to achieve our ambition for high quality, meaningful employment and skills training for our local community, we needed to develop our own facility and work with partners to design bespoke training and apprenticeship programmes which met the unique requirements of our business.

“To date, without travelling outside of the county, there has not been an opportunity for anyone in Cornwall to access the type of training facilities and programmes that our Academy is now able to deliver. It’s a first for Cornwall and opens the door to a wealth of career opportunities, whilst enabling us to maintain the expert skills of our existing workforce without them having to travel away from home.

National Apprenticeships Week does a brilliant job of highlighting the opportunities available to school leavers and older learners to learn new skills and further their career opportunities. We are delighted to support the initiative and to be able to showcase and hopefully inspire others through the success of the Wildanet Academy, our training team and partners and of course the achievements of our own apprentices, of whom we are very proud.”

Charli Styles, Programme Team Leader of Future Skills at Truro and Penwith College, commented: “The College is thrilled to have established this innovative partnership with Wildanet that has seen the inception of the South West’s first Telecoms Field Operative Apprenticeship, creating quality career opportunities for our apprentices while benefitting homes, businesses and communities across Cornwall and Devon.

“The College is always striving to work with the very best employers and as a leader in its field Wildanet is no exception. It’s incredibly pleasing we’ve been able to continue to innovate and with our partnership approach, add bespoke elements and adaptations to the Apprenticeship programme to maximise results for Wildanet, its staff and to directly meet the skills needs of this fast-moving sector. Our new multi-million-pound facilities at the STEM Health and Skills Centre, Bodmin has been a huge part in making this partnership possible along with the industry expertise of our teaching teams, curriculum developers and the Wildanet team.”

Anyone interested in applying for Wildanet’s apprenticeship programme is encouraged to visit www.wildanet.com/apprenticeships to find out more and apply online.

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