AN ABSOLUTELY fabulous Bolton training centre has helped a water company claim a top award.

United Utilities opened its specialist technical training centre for engineers and apprentices in Kearsley in February 2015.

Now the company has won the staff development award at the Utility Week Awards, presented by Joanna Lumley.

It has invested more than £2.5million of the centre and there was a further expansion earlier this year.

The facility boasts four interactive training rooms as well as well as dedicated practical training areas for all the technical disciplines.

This includes a simulation sewer environment for confined spaces training, more than 30 metres of pressured water pipework, live electrical and chlorine rigs and a replica water treatment works.

Judges praised the company for the way it has embraced a 'culture of continuous improvement and development' for all staff, from new apprentices in their teens to those approaching retirement.

Karen Hughes, head of organisational development at United Utilities, said: "To win the staff development award is a real tribute to the hard work and commitment of people at every level in the company.

“We realised that if we were to fix the looming skills shortage that faces the industry over the coming decade we needed to think in a radically different way about how to retain and build upon the knowledge of our older employees.

“That’s why we developed our industry-leading 'One Curriculum' approach which gives every employee, regardless of age or the route by which they joined the company, the chance to learn the skills they need to advance their career and deliver consistently high services for our customers.”

The United Utilities technical training team was developed in 2012 when it had just four specialist trainers from the existing workforce.

By 2017 it had expanded to 12 across multiple disciplines such as water treatment, wastewater treatment, electrical, mechanical and instrumentation automation

The specialists have undertaken training and teaching qualifications and have been fully involved in the creation of the training courses that are now delivered.

These trainers and the centre are enabling United Utilities to aim to appoint 50 per cent of all new starters for operational roles from its apprenticeship scheme.

This scheme has also won a National Apprenticeship Award in 2015 and has been nominated as a finalist in the Regional National Apprenticeship Awards 2017.

Over the next three years United Utilities plans to recruit an additional 124 apprentices and more than 60 graduates.

Mrs Hughes added: “Our new approach means we can spot talent early and we currently have 18 employees who are on our Aspiring Managers programme and studying for a degree.

“We are already seeing terrific results in terms of staff productivity and retention - 90 per cent of our employees say they expect to be working for United Utilities into the future. We’re very proud to be a company that people want to work for. ”