Minister previews Highland future with visit to Advancing Manufacturing Centre

Plans to turn the West Highlands into a new powerhouse for education and economy based on science and technology came one step closer last week when Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Higher and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training, visited West Highland College UHI’s new manufacturing centre.

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Minister Jamie Hepburn visits the new Advancing Manufacturing Centre with (L to R) Derek Lewis, Chair of the Board of Management, David Campbell, Project Director for STEM and Lydia Rohmer Principal and Chief Executive of West Highland College UHI.

Mr Hepburn was a special preview guest at the Advancing Manufacturing Centre (AMC) which will offer free technology and expertise to businesses when it officially opens its doors next month in Fort William.   

The Minister, who was visiting the college for the first time in his new role, was shown a range of innovative technology - including the Mazak CV5-500, the first Mazak model of its kind available in Scotland - before meeting construction students and joining an online college school link class to speak with pupils studying Business.  

Mr Hepburn was welcomed by Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive, Derek Lewis, Chair of the Board of Management and David Campbell, Project Director for STEM.   

Any small or medium business needing access to machinery and software such as 3D printing, scanning and machining at zero cost can get support from AMC and the College. A team of experienced engineers and technicians can offer equipment and help with training and research to provide business solutions, inspire entrepreneurs and bring ideas to life.    

The Centre is one of 12 projects in the national ‘Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund’ network, which is a partnership between the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It is part funded by the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund. 

AMC is the first move in a major plan to open a new £20m Centre for Science, Technology, Health and Engineering in Fort William, next to the proposed site of the new Belford Hospital. The STEM Centre will provide a regional innovation hub to level up skills, training and work-based learning opportunities.  

Lydia Rohmer said:  

As COP26 begins, we welcome the opportunity to show the Minister our vision for a future which will create a step change in access to green, digital and health skills for our young people and help strengthen our rural, coastal and island communities in the West Highlands.  

There are currently no specialist education and training facilities for STEM or specialist clinical health or related disciplines and life sciences in the West Highlands, and young people and businesses are forced to leave our communities to get access to skills and training in these areas. 

With strong support from our strategic partners, including the University of the Highlands and Islands, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, NHS Highland, Highland Council and the Scottish Funding Council as well as our business community, we’re forging ahead with our plans for our STEM Centre to provide much-needed local skills and opportunities as part of our commitment to create an empowered and sustainable future economy for the rural Highland and Island communities and businesses we serve.”  

David Campbell said: 

“This Government recognises that STEM is vital to the future of the Highlands as part of its goal to create a more educated, inclusive and innovative Scotland. With AMC and the planned STEM centre which will also incorporate digital and health, we will have everything in place to deliver excellent localised learning, providing employers access to the workforce they need. Our plan will attract new investment and talent and allow everyone the chance to develop rewarding careers without the need to leave homes and families.” 

AMC will open its doors to the public later this month as part of this year’s Lochaber Ideas Week 2021, an annual event organised in and around Fort William by Lochaber Chamber of Commerce to celebrate innovation across the region. 

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