A SOUTH Lakeland college has been given a £2 million grant to create a state-of-the-art training hub to address the area’s drastic shortage of skilled workers.

The hi-tech engineering and science block will be built at Kendal College after the cash aid was secured from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

The centre is designed to plug the region’s manufacturing skills gap and offset its ageing workforce.

The money will be spent at the college’s Milnthorpe Road campus, subject to planning consent, by June 2014.

Technician-level programmes and apprenticeships will be offered in applied science, sustainable technology and engineering to degree level.

And up to 200 potential new students – many forced to travel further afield to train – will bring extra economic benefits to the area as they forge careers with local firms.

Architects are already drawing up designs to be submitted to South Lakeland planners by the end of January.

If approved, work could start in April.

College Principal Graham Wilkinson said: “This will provide a new state-of-the-art facility and allow us to build on the success of our engineering suite.

“We hope to create an outstanding facility to meet the needs of local industries that we know suffer from skills shortages.”

The centre will also tap into ‘green’ technology such as sustainable energy, heat pumps, wind systems, underfloor heating and solar power.

The SFA approved the Enhanced Renewal Grant for the college after 17 major employers, councils and organisations threw their weight behind it.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron praised the ‘team effort’ he said won the cash.

“We will be able to retain far more of our young people and attract more to our area to learn skills to put into practice locally,” he said.

“Businesses are looking for good-quality workers and the stuff the college is doing will be significant in attracting companies to locate here.”

Kendal turbine manufacturer Gilbert Gilkes and Gordon – the town’s second largest employer – has six university-sponsored graduates and eight apprentices on its staff.

Chairman Charles Crewdson said: “Kendal College’s news could not have arrived at a more opportunistic time. In the South Lakes we have an ageing workforce and we need replacements who are suitably trained.”

Ted Creighton, head of learning and development at BAE Systems, Barrow, said: “Kendal has a number of engineering companies, which operate worldwide, and they must ensure they retain these skills.”

South Lakes Federation – made up of South Lakes schools and Kendal College – recently launched a steering group to look at developing engineering.

Executive officer Enid Fraser said: “It’s timely because there’s an increase in young people interested in ‘harder’ sciences like physics, chemistry and engineering at a high level.”

But it is not just South Lakeland that stands to reap rewards from the college’s expansion.

SLDC leader Peter Thornton said the ‘fabulous’ news would benefit Cumbria as a whole, adding: “When I was a young person looking for employment, Kendal had K-Shoes and several light engineering firms.

“The prospect of the town once again developing an engineering sector is to be welcomed hugely.”

The development would include new car parking to relieve the number of vehicles on streets and the college has said it will contribute to the upkeep of nearby woodland.

And more good news could be on the horizon, with the college set to apply for £2 million from the Government to build new studios at its arts, media and heritage centre on Wildman Street.

It is also looking to provide ‘incubator’ spaces for students wishing to become self-employed and a new gas assessment centre to support the plumbing industry.

An SLDC spokesman said: “We are aware of the aspirations of the college. We have had some discussions and look forward to seeing the plans in the New Year.”