MARK Drakeford officially opened a new training centre for Openreach engineers in Newport today.
The centre cost £1.7 million to build and is designed to train telecoms engineers to build and maintain broadband services.
It was built back in September last year but was only officially opened today.
It is one of 11 similar centres in the UK and will serve as a hub for training people from Wales and the South West of England.
As well as having provisions for academic learning, the centre has a mock street designed for trainees to get some hands on experience.
Rows of telegraph poles are present in this area, as are mock residential and commercial buildings so that trainees can practice their skills on both overground and underground lines.
It is hoped that around 6,000 engineers will be trained at the site every year.
Mr Drakeford said:“The new centre will be a great asset for us in Wales that will train thousands of engineers every year.
“This is a vital sector that provides services that we rely on every day at work and in our personal lives.
“Bringing faster and more reliable broadband to more homes and businesses will boost the economy and create opportunities for the future.”
Other Welsh politicians, such as John Griffiths MS and Jayne Bryant MS were also in attendance.
In Wales, Openreach employs 2,500 people and will be focusing on building full fibre connections to the hardest to reach places in the UK.
£15 billion will be spent on ensuring 25 million premises have access to the ‘ultrafast’ broadband by December 26, with 415,000 of theses homes and businesses being based in Wales.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research conducted research that estimated a £2 billion boost to the economy in Wales if all premises are connected to full fibre broadband.
Connie Dixon, Openreach’s partnership director for Wales, said: “Our network underpins the economy the length and breadth of Wales, bringing a vital service to communities in both urban and rural areas.
“We’re proud of our track record but recognise there is still more to do.”
“We’re investing now for the future so that we have the local, skilled and experienced workforce needed to deliver a full fibre future for Wales to keep communities connected, with better service, broader coverage and faster broadband speeds for all.
“Openreach engineers attending the centre will receive comprehensive training – from IT systems and setting up their working area safely to splicing together hair-breadth fibres or installing or repairing a line.
“The investment includes the replica residential street inside the centre to give recruits a safe, real-life environment to learn and practice aspects of their work without impacting real customers.”
A career as a telecom engineer is open to many, with the oldest trainee at the centre being 59 years old.
Most trainees are given around 12 weeks of training at the centre, though it will depend on the role of the engineer as some attend the centre to learn new skills.
Trainee engineer Ben Cameron said: “Training has been brilliant – the facilities and trainers have been a very positive introduction to the company.
“Each part of the job is broken down and then the ‘Open Street’ provides me with the environment to put into practice what I’ve learned.
“It has definitely helped me gain a greater understanding of the job and the network without the added pressure of a customer waiting for a line to be fixed or their fibre to be switched on.
“Making the career change to be an engineer with Openreach was a big decision but it’s definitely been the right one.
“I’m sure I’m going to enjoy working here for many years to come.”