The first engine won’t come off the production line until next year but the new Jaguar Land Rover engine factory on the i54 site is already creating job opportunities for people across the Black Country and Staffordshire.
As Prime Minister David Cameron toured the plant on the border of Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire during his whistlestop visit yesterday he chatted with 17-year-old apprentice and former Wednesfield High School girl Lauren Quinn.
Also on the shop floor were veteran engineers Lance Simpson and Steve Bird, both in their 50s, who were made redundant from their jobs a year ago and are now part of the biggest industrial investment programme in the UK.
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Once fully operational the site will employ a total of 1,400 people – including apprentices, skilled engineers and office staff. JLR has committed to try and recruit as many people from the local area as possible and is working with schools and colleges in the region.
Yesterday the Prime Minister was given a tour of the site and he hailed its opening as a boost to the UK economy.
The £500 million plant, dubbed The Engine Room by JLR, will be making a new design of four cylinder petrol and diesel engines for the next generation of Jaguars and Land Rovers, starting with a small saloon that will be unveiled this summer.
Designed to compete with the likes of BMW’s hugely popular 3-Series, the new car will go on sale in 2015 fitted with engines produced at the i54.
Stretching across 775,000 sq ft, the state-of-the-art factory is already filling up with the latest production equipment, much of it bought from Germany.
But operations director Trevor Leek, boss of the new factory, said: “What will make the difference is the people, not the kit and not the building. What we are looking for is people with the right values and behaviour. In terms of technical skills, we can train them if we have the right people.” The ‘right people’ include a new generation of engineers like second year apprentice Lauren Quinn. She was recruited in October 2012 and after a year at Wolverhampton College she is now learning her trade on the shop floor.
Lauren, from Coppice Farm Way in New Invention, said: “My dad is an engineer, in the pressings industry, and that got me interested. I was the only girl on my course and the lads with me are like my brothers now. I’m proud to be involved in a brand new factory.” Keeping an eye on her progress is her apprenticeship mentor Lance Simpson: “She’s doing really well, we’re really pleased with her,” he said. “She’s already been with us to Bremen in Germany a couple of times when we’ve been looking at the new equipment.”
Lance, aged 55, who lives just a short distance from the factory in Wychall Drive, Bushbury, had worked for Harvestime Bakery in Walsall for 20 years until he was made redundant last year. “Fortunately my skills as a mechanical and electrical engineer were transferable.”
Steve Bird, aged 51, from Arch Street, Rugeley, had just lost his job. “I’d been in full-time work since I was 16,” he said. “It was a really stressful period and when I got the call from JLR I didn’t have to think, I jumped at it.” The trio are part of a hand-picked team that has grown to 170, given the job of getting the factory ready for production. Meanwhile, 4,000 more people have applied for the next set of 600 manufacturing jobs – the next step towards the aim of a 1,400-strong workforce.
During his visit yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron told JLR executive director Mike Wright: “Whenever I come to one of your plants it makes my spirits soar when I see such an exciting future for British manufacturing. This is the epitome of what is happening to the British economy.”