IN the late 18th century the Heads of the Valleys area witnessed the birth of an industrial revolution that would transform Wales and contribute significantly to similar developments across Britain and the world.
The rapid expansion of the iron and coal industries in what is now an area that has the modern county boroughs of Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil at its centre, relied on unskilled but also skilled labour, much of which was developed through what we today would call the apprenticeship system.
Today of course things are very different in the Heads of the Valleys. Employment of any type, let alone in skilled manufacturing, is scarce and too often the area is associated with worklessness, high levels of benefit claimants and low levels of educational qualifications and skills.
Economists point to the Heads of the Valleys as being the most difficult regeneration problem to overcome in the UK. Now, however, there is a new hope and confidence about the area and a belief that through a major investment in education and training that better times lie ahead.
The first signs of this has been the massive investment that the Welsh Government has put into the area through the new learning campuses at Ebbw Vale (due to open in September 2012) and Merthyr Tydfil (opening in September 2013) and UHOVI: the University of the Heads of the Valleys Institute (supported by the University of Glamorgan and the University of Newport) that is providing higher education level activity in the communities.
All of this activity has recently been brought together in a single Heads of the Valleys Education Programme (HOVEP).
HOVEP is a unique partnership between the Welsh Government, Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil local authorities, Coleg Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil College and UHOVI.
Through the collective effort of the partners, it is committed to bringing about a major transformation of the social and economic fortunes of the area founded upon significant improvements in education participation, achievement and skills for employability in the area. …