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Former Welsh steelworks becomes ‘living’ cyber lab

ResilientWorks security centre in Ebbw Vale provides an education hub for students and a testbed for industry

First minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has today opened a new “living” cyber security laboratory at the Thales National Digital Exploitation Centre’s (NDEC’s) £20m innovation campus on the site of the former Ebbw Vale steelworks in Blaenau Gwent.

Jointly funded by Thales, the Welsh government’s Tech Valleys programme, and Cardiff University, the £7m ResilientWorks project will function as a security education and careers centre for schools and colleges, and a research centre and test and development bed for universities and technology companies.

“Ebbw Vale was once a place that exported steel across the globe. Now we’re working together as government, industry and universities, joining forces to export knowledge around the world,” said Mark Drakeford.

“ResilientWorks will help establish Wales as a centre of excellence for cyber security technology for critical national infrastructure and industry. These are the jobs of the future in the industries of the future.”

Thales said its expanding involvement at Ebbw Vale would play an important role in growing local cyber talent and high-tech jobs in the area. It already directly employs 28 people at the site, has created both PhDs and degree apprenticeships, and is making a point of working with growing businesses in the local supply chain.

It is also a founder member of the Cyber College Cymru initiative, an industry-academia partnership that trains 100 students a year, and runs a weekly Cyber Club for Year 9 children at the nearby Abertillery Learning Community.

NDEC business manager Leanne Connor, herself a former Abertillery student, said: “There’s no reason why people in this area can’t move into well-paid high tech jobs. The team here are real-life examples that it can be done. 

“We’re delivering our commitment to the Welsh Government to work with schools and colleges to develop a pipeline for talent for the future. Our educational outreach is being very well received in schools and we’re really starting to have an impact. 

“The number of female students going into STEM subjects and looking at cyber as career options is increasing. Local schools are delighted that a company like Thales wants to work with them. We’re starting to normalise the idea among young people in this area that they can have a career in cyber.”

The Ebbw Vale steelworks itself dates back to the late 18th century and the origins of the first Industrial Revolution, and by the end of the 1930s, it was the largest steelworks in Europe, producing over 600,000 tonnes of steel per annum.

It was closed by Corus in 2002 and later sold to Blaenau Gwent Council, which embarked on a regeneration project in 2007. Besides the NDEC facility, the site already plays host to other education and sports facilities, and a new hospital named for NHS founder Aneurin Bevan.

The latest security investment into South Wales comes hot on the heels of a major commitment from the Welsh government and other partners to spend a further £9.5m on a new security innovation hub, to open later this year.

This project, which is also being supported by Thales among others, hopes to train more than 1,000 cyber professionals, and plans to grow the Welsh security industry by 50%.

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