When I chose to start working as an apprentice electrician, it was a choice which I think surprised a lot of people. In Ireland, there seems to be a slight stigma around those who choose to do a trade and that is probably because college is seen as “free”, so if you don’t go to college, you are deemed as probably being a poor student who didn’t do well in exams. (The one-dimensional school system in Ireland is something I’m not even going to get into in this post, I’ll save it for another day.)
I could have gone to college if I wanted to, I was offered my first choice course, Commerce and Spanish, but I had absolutely no interest in doing it. Wasting time is something I’ve always hated. I knew that if I began that course, I would end up dropping out, just like so many people I know who dropped out of a course they never really had any interest in. Many eighteen-year-olds pick a course because their friends are doing it, or their parents chose it as a ‘good solid degree’ for them, and a few months in, they drop out. Even the people who stick it out and get their degree, many of them see their work as just a job and not something that they enjoy. The belief that work isn’t meant to be fun stems back to the industrial revolution when factory owners convinced their employees that this is the way you “make a living”. It has been instilled upon us from generation to generation but finally, I believe that way of thinking is starting to change.
I came to the conclusion of being an electrician fairly simply, I took what I enjoyed and asked what I wanted to be doing in years to come. Here’s what I came up with:
- I was good at working with my hands.
- I was a good problem solver.
- I wanted a job I could travel with.
- I found electrical work interesting.
- Most importantly, I wanted a job where I could end up working for myself.
All of this pointed directly at an apprenticeship as an electrician. I started in May 2008, just as the downturn hit Ireland with all its force. I was lucky, my employer had a good contract in place and had a solid pipeline of work to keep the company going through the hard times. The work was tough, and what made it tougher, was watching all my friends partying during the week, enjoying college life and going on three-month holidays during the summer.
But what I was gaining through my time as an apprentice, was an appreciation for hard work and it began developing my mind for business. After a couple of years, I was in charge of my own jobs which was a lot of responsibility but it was something I enjoyed. It was my first real taste of working for myself, even though I still had to report back to my boss at the end of the day.
Throughout my apprenticeship, I never stopped thinking about having my own company and it was the ultimate goal. Once qualified, and after a brief stint working as a chef, I went travelling (reason no.3 for being an electrician). After three years I returned to Ireland and set up my own electrical company (reason no.5) which was a job, and that was it. I still felt like I needed to be doing something more than battling with someone who wants a €100 job done for €20.
After an incident in my own home, I began developing Firemole and instantly I felt like I was on the right path. Everything began falling into place and being given a place on Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers Phase 2 Progam, really got things moving. I was given an office, €15,000 and crucially, workshops and mentorship to bring my business, Firemole Limited, to an investable position.
Learning the skills necessary from people in industry on how to run Firemole as a company, is more than any college degree could have taught me. I’ve donned all the hats; marketing, sales, pitching and the list goes on. It has been a lot of hard work, stress, coffee and awkward meetings when I am way out of my depth, but I have enjoyed all of it and that is how I know that I am headed down the right path.
If I hadn’t decided to do an apprenticeship, I know I would not be sitting here writing this post, I’d probably be stuck in an office block doing a job I would really prefer not to be doing. I’m a strong believer in gut feeling, and it hasn’t let me down yet.
Being an electrician wiring a house or being a businessman making a pitch, the principals are the same. You will always come up against problems and have to find ways around them (reason no.2). The key is to find a way to do it better than anybody else and that is what will make you stand out, no matter what job you are in.