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Apprentices kick-start careers in Cumbria as gigabit broadband rollout gathers pace

  • New apprentices in Cumbria kick-start their careers following UK government investment to accelerate broadband rollout

  • Jobs for the future as first cohort of at least 90 trainees benefit from brand new facilities – with all set to be offered permanent employment

  • Funding is part of Project Gigabit which continues to roll out across the county with Aspatria and Staveley already connected by Fibrus

The first cohort of Cumbrian apprentices are now in training for telecoms jobs of the future, following millions of pounds of investment from the UK government, with all set to be offered permanent employment on completion.

In a huge boost for jobs and skills across Cumbria, broadband provider Fibrus, alongside network build partner Viberoptix, have committed to creating at least 90 apprenticeships covering a range of roles from underground and overhead cabling to surveying – as part of a £108 million government investment to provide lightning-speed broadband connectivity throughout Cumbria and level-up the county’s digital infrastructure.

Local residents have now commenced their apprenticeships at the brand new Viberoptix Training Academy in Newton Rigg, Penrith following an extensive refit of the one-time agricultural training college. Over the autumn, the trainees will gain formal telecoms qualifications, alongside in-class training specific to telecoms and field-based experience, equipping them with the skills and expertise needed to take up long-term careers in the industry. At the end, all trainees will be offered permanent employment.

The government investment forms part of its Project Gigabit, a £5 billion mission to deliver lightning-fast, reliable broadband to people in rural places across the UK, working with broadband suppliers to achieve 85% gigabit coverage of the UK by 2025, and then to nationwide coverage by 2030. It is levelling-up the UK, making sure that people have the same access to fast and reliable connectivity wherever they live, work and study.

Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said:

Ultra-fast, reliable broadband is transforming the way we connect with each other and do business, and creating exciting opportunities in the UK’s growing telecoms industry. These apprentices kick-starting their careers here at Newton Rigg are just the first who will be gaining the skills and expertise to take up good jobs and help accelerate the rollout of high-speed broadband in Cumbria.

Our partnerships with businesses like Fibrus and Viberoptix are spurring investment in local communities and securing a pipeline of talent for years to come, backed by £108 million in Government funding to deliver lightning-fast broadband connectivity across Cumbria and level up the county’s digital infrastructure.

More than 77% of homes and businesses can now access a gigabit-capable broadband connection, a huge increase from just 6% in 2019. In Cumbria, the rollout of the Project Gigabit contract continues to make good progress, with residents and businesses in communities from Aspatria to Staveley now able to access and enjoy lightning-fast connections through Fibrus networks.

Project Gigabit will also help grow the economy, with new digital infrastructure delivering better-paid jobs and creating opportunity right across the country. At Newton Rigg, Tom Balcombe, a 32-year-old from nearby Penrith, explained that he is excited to start his training:

During Covid I got a job in security, working at a supermarket in Penrith. But I had been looking for a new career path, and I already knew a little about working in telecoms. At the end of this programme I want to go out, do overhead cabling and splicing fibre. I am looking forward to gaining a trade – you can never go wrong if you have a trade. This training has piqued my interest massively and it’s a huge gamechanger.

Tom is excited to be joined in his cohort, the first at new-look Newton Rigg, by Will Norendal, a 22-year-old from Penrith who hopes to enjoy a long career in the industry, as he explained:

I have wanted to make a career out of something and telecoms sounds good – I have always been a computer nerd and think this could be quite fun. I am only 22 so have only ever done odd jobs. I want a career now and everyone wants to move up in the world don’t they? This training is very interesting – I want to go into telecoms, it is what my mind is set on now, especially now I am gaining this experience. It is something I want to pursue for the rest of my life.

Linda McMillan, Chief People Officer at Fibrus, said:

Broadband connectivity is more important than ever and is crucial to levelling-up rural communities to give those in rural areas the same opportunities as those in bigger cities. We are proud of how our full fibre broadband rollout is progressing in Cumbria, and when we invest in a region, we ensure we go beyond providing much needed affordable high-speed broadband.

The enrolment of the first apprentices at Newton Rigg this summer is a testament to our commitment to local communities. Alongside offering people in Cumbria essential full-fibre broadband connections, we’re committed to supporting the region with community grants, job creation and training opportunities. I am delighted that we’re creating new career pathways for local apprentices this year through our trusted partner Viberoptix.

Claire McCay, HR Director at Viberoptix, said:

We are delighted to welcome our first cohort of apprentices to our purpose-built Training Academy in Penrith. We know the history of Newton Rigg college and we’re proud to be able to bring a training facility back to the site, offering training and development and job opportunities to the local community.

Our aim is to build for the future, not just building a fibre network, but helping people build their careers and futures in the telecoms industry. We recognise the importance and the impact that this UK government project will have on Cumbria, and we’re proud to be a part of it alongside Fibrus.

The commencement of eight Project Gigabit-funded apprenticeships made possible by Project Gigabit comes as new independent research highlights the multitude of positive impacts a lightning-fast broadband connection can make to business.

The Superfast Broadband Programme, which precedes Project Gigabit, was delivered in partnership with local councils in England, and by the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive.

An independent evaluation, published today, shows that annual turnover of businesses covered by the programme area increased between 2012 and 2021, creating an annual turnover boost of around £2.6 billion in these areas by 2021. The programme as a whole was estimated to have led to 23,700 more local jobs up to March 2021.


Project Gigabit

Project Gigabit is the government’s flagship £5 billion programme to enable hard-to-reach communities to access lightning-fast gigabit-capable broadband. It targets homes and businesses that are not included in broadband suppliers’ commercial plans, reaching parts of the UK that might otherwise miss out on getting the digital connectivity they need.

The fast, reliable connections delivered by Project Gigabit will level-up mostly rural and remote communities across the UK, as well as tackling pockets of poor connectivity in urban areas. Project Gigabit will grow the economy, with new digital infrastructure delivering better-paid jobs and creating opportunity right across the country.

Having the fastest broadband means households no longer have to battle over bandwidth, people enjoy the freedom to live and work more flexibly, businesses increase their productivity, and vital public services thrive.

Having the fastest connections also means the UK is fit-for-the-future, with broadband infrastructure designed to deliver for people’s needs for decades to come.

Project Gigabit in Cumbria

Work has started to connect tens of thousands of people living and working in rural Cumbria to lightning-fast broadband thanks to more than £100 million of government investment.

Around 60,000 premises in the county will be connected to the fastest broadband on the market after Belfast-based supplier Fibrus.

Places already connected thanks to Project Gigabit rollout in the county include the communities of Staveley and Aspatria.

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