From redundant to happy camper
40 year old Christopher Ford from Cardiff was facing redundancy in March 2011. Through ReAct Funding and training at Cardiff and Vale College, he now owns a successful family run business and is celebrating the first birthday as owner of Volks Engineering; a business specialising in restoring Volkswagen camper vans.
Chris left Fitzalan High School and completed a Mechanics Apprenticeship with a Volkswagen dealer before working as a mechanic for ten years specialising on Volkswagen vehicles. He then went to work for a local Auto Electrics company before moving on to work for Avian Mobile, where he worked as an Install Engineer. His role involved installing hands free mobile phone kits, car alarms, tracker systems and tetra radio communication systems into ambulances. He worked for Avian Mobile for eight years and was made redundant in March 2011.
After his redundancy, Chris was advised by a friend in similar circumstances about ReAct Training. Careers Wales were on hand to provide Chris with all the information he needed about retraining in his field and after much deliberation, Chris decided that retraining was the right option for him to put him in good stead for a future in the auto industry. He decided to retrain at Cardiff and Vale College, formerly known as Coleg Glan Hafren and Barry College, before they merged in August 2011. Chris said: “I decided to retrain as I was serious about turning my hobby into a career and wanted to polish my skills. It’s different working on other people’s vehicles and I wanted to make sure I had the right skills to do so.”
Chris contacted Peter Gibbons, Director of Full Time Studies Vehicle Body Repair and Paint Refinishing at the College, via the job centre and explained that he was interested in obtaining a ReAct training grant to retrain and get back into the employment market. After the training analysis had been tailored and agreed with both Chris and the College, Chris obtained the funding and proceeded to commence the tailor made training. The sessions were delivered on a one-to-one basis over a seven week period. Chris attended ten sessions in this period, covering all of the fundamental and specialist skills needed for vehicle restoration.
“The course gave me the confidence to pursue the passion I had for renovating VW vans,” said Chris, who is currently studying on an Evening Vehicle Refinishing course Level 1 at the College. “It allowed me to learn the tricks of the trade and spurred me on with my career. That’s why I decided to come to night school to continue my training. Without Cardiff and Vale College and the ReAct funding I don’t know where I would be today.”
Chris has always built and worked on his own vans and had been restoring classic VW camper vans as a hobby as well as being a keen surfer and kite surfer. It was his dream to learn how to repair and repaint the VW campervan bodies to an ‘as good as new’ finish, transforming his hobby into a professional business. Being made redundant gave Chris the opportunity to turn his dream into a reality. He began his business with no client base whatsoever but after jumping the hurdles that any new business faces, Chris celebrates a successful first year as owner of Volks Engineering with his client base building regularly. He now has to consider employing a co-worker and has a fully booked workload taking him up to August and beyond.
Chris said: “You have to take the leap of faith; there are opportunities out there for everyone. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been and all my friends would agree. I was stuck in a rut in my old job and in all honesty, they did me a favour in making me redundant. Running my own business is hard work, I’m working longer hours but I’m now getting paid for doing a job I love.”
Peter Gibbons, Director of Full Time Studies Vehicle Body Repair and Paint Refinishing at the College said: “As Chris began the programme with an understanding of motor vehicle technology, his enthusiasm and commitment ensured that his skill levels improved dramatically fast, leading to many different skills being learnt over the seven week period. Chris passed all assessment criteria and was awarded with a series of certificates to illustrate his achievements and progression. Chris enjoyed the programme so much that he returned this year to partake in a Vehicle Refinishing programme in which he can fine tune his paint spraying skills. I would like to wish Chris all the success and prosperity he deserves when his business is running to full capacity.”