ONE of the country's most famous scientists and television personalities, Prof Brian Cox, declared a £20m specialist industry training centre at Middlesbrough College as "genuinely ground-breaking" and "an act of genius," on Thursday.

Prof Cox officially opened the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Centre at Middlesbrough College which has recreated equipment from industry following consultation with 40 businesses and whose 'teachers' have all worked in industry themselves.

The Northern Echo:

Middlesbrough College was awarded £6.6m in government funding but has also borrowed £13.3m from Santander to create a training centre exactly attuned to the needs of industry.

As well as being used by college students and youngsters on apprenticeships it is expected that companies will send workers there on training courses and members of the public looking to improve their skills will also pay to use the facility.

The college has been granted £1.2m by the Government to help retrain steel workers following the recent closure of Redcar's SSI steel plant.

Prof Cox said it was "absolutely obvious" that colleges should ask industry what they wanted from workers and said the STEM centre could be used as a blueprint across the country.

He said: "It’s groundbreaking. There’s a real understanding here of what industry needs. Everybody will benefit, and it’s absolutely obvious that centres of this kind are needed across the country.

"It’s an act of genius. 

"It has genuinely surpassed my expectations and it should be used as a blueprint.”

Zoe Lewis, principal and chief executive, said that five years ago Middlesbrough College had fewer than 100 apprentices, this year the college will train more than 1,000.

"It is a commitment to realign skills to industry," she said.