GEC to close world's oldest telecommunications college

GEC is to close the world's oldest telecommunications training college, bringing to an end more than 90 years of history and casting doubts about the electronics giant's commitment to investment in education and training.

Staff at the Marconi College, part of the GEC-Marconi defence division, were told about the closure plans in an internal memo last week. It said that up to 36 jobs at the college in Chelmsford were "at risk of redundancy". The company blamed the decision on falling orders for training from within GEC and from outside clients. It emerged last week that GEC was cutting 535 jobs at the site, though the group did not reveal at the time that part of the cuts involved closing the residential training site.

According to the memo, orders for training work at the college were predicted to be pounds 245,000 below the budget plan this year. It continued: "Clearly this situation cannot be sustained and as a result the Marconi Simulation and Training management have been obliged to take action to contain the loss."

The operation was the world's first telecommunications training facility, established by the Marconi company in 1901 as the Wireless and Telegraph Training College. Students are offered courses including radar, radio and thermal imaging.

The closure sets GEC against a recent industry trend towards greater investment in training. Multi-national firms including Ford and Motorola have invested heavily in UK training recently, while Unipart, the car components company, has built its own employee "university." GEC has frequently been criticised for its research and development record, charges rebuffed by the former managing director, Lord Weinstock.

Sources blamed GEC for failing to invest in the college to update facilities. Staff were told improvements costing more than pounds 900,000 were needed, including improving hotel accommodation. The memo said: "This investment cannot be justified with the current level of predicted sales and margins."

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