The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, today opened a new ‘living’ cybersecurity lab at the £20 million innovation campus of the Thales National Digital Exploitation Center (NDEC) on the site of the former Ebbw Vale steelworks in Blaenau Gwent.
Jointly funded by Thales, the Welsh Government’s Tech Valleys program and Cardiff University, the £7 million ResilientWorks project will operate as a safety education and career hub for schools and colleges, and a research center and a test and development bed for universities and technology companies.
“Ebbw Vale was once a place that exported steel around the world. Now we work together as government, industry and academia, joining forces to export knowledge around the world,” said Mark Drakeford.
“ResilientWorks will help establish Wales as a center of excellence in cybersecurity technology for critical national infrastructure and industry. These are the jobs of the future in the industries of the future.
Thales said its growing involvement in Ebbw Vale would play an important role in growing local cyber talent and high-tech jobs in the region. It already directly employs 28 people on the site, has created work-study programs for doctors and diplomas and makes it a point of honor to work with growing businesses in the local sector.
He is also a founding member of the Cyber College Cymru initiative, an industry-university partnership that trains 100 students a year and runs a weekly Cyber Club for 9th graders in the nearby Abertillery learning community.
NDEC business manager Leanne Connor, herself a former Abertillery student, said: “There is no reason people in this area should not be able to access well-paying high-tech jobs. The team here are concrete examples that this can be done.
“We are delivering on our commitment to the Welsh Government to work with schools and colleges to develop a talent pool for the future. Our educational action is very well received in schools and we are really starting to have an impact.
“The number of female students going into STEM subjects and considering cyber as career options is growing. Local schools are delighted that a company like Thales wants to work with them. We are starting to trivialize the idea among young people in this environment that they can have a career in cyber.”
The Ebbw Vale Steelworks itself dates back to the late 18and 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 year.
It was closed by Corus in 2002 and then sold to Blaenau Gwent Council, which embarked on a regeneration project in 2007. As well as the NDEC facility, the site already hosts other educational and sporting facilities, as well as a new hospital named for NHS founder Aneurin. Bevan.
The latest safety investment in South Wales follows a major commitment by the Welsh Government and other partners to spend an additional £9.5 million on a new Safety Innovation Centre, which will open later this year.
The project, which is also backed by Thales and others, hopes to train over 1,000 cyber professionals and plans to grow the Welsh security industry by 50%.