Chris Hall

School wasn’t great for me and I didn’t manage to get any decent qualifications beyond Design and Technology. I was ok at practical things though not so good at the rest of it. But I went on to college to do a three year qualification in tree surgery. Looking back that seems a bit of a random choice – they gave you a list and I didn’t really know what to go for. Anyway, I left with the qualification but not the required ticket, and although I didn’t want to go on the dole my dad said I needed to get my insurance stamp. I ended up being out of work for three years. Then they sent me on a work programme and my adviser suggested I should come to the Employability Trust for their 12 week work experience programme. Well, I would have snapped their hand off to get some work experience.

I was a bit anxious, not knowing what to expect. When I started the first couple of weeks was classroom based, doing customer service training, but after that it was much more hands-on which suited me much better. Then we were on the shop floor four days a week and in the classroom one day. I remember my first job on the shop floor was removing labels from ginger beer bottles. It was messy but it didn’t put me off though. After that I was making up kitchen installation kits, putting all the pieces together, packaging and labelling them. I was there for another 7 to 8 weeks doing that kind of work and I loved every minute. The people you work with are the best part of it and it’s so good to get proper, hands-on experience. That’s much more than I ever had from the Job Centre.

For me, the important things were really learning about what it’s like to be at work – getting to work on time, managing my own time during the day, getting used to following instructions, and all on a real job. At the end of the initial 12 weeks I was able to stay for another 8 weeks to do my fork lift licence and supervisor training.

My second to last week, on the Friday, the boss took me aside to say there was an opening at Cummins Engineering where they make engines for Rolls Royce. Would I be interested? I wasn’t sure. He told me to think about it over the weekend and talk to my parents. So I did, but at that point I didn’t feel it was the right thing. So I explained on the Monday. I said, thank you for the opportunity but I’d really like to stay here. You’ve given me so much experience and confidence already, I’d like to continue and pay that back. They were fine with that.

I started on an 8 hour contract, still signing on at that point, but then another opportunity came up, to go to work for Hillcross Furniture in Darlington and learn something new, upholstering furniture for them. I drove the van down to their factory with another supervisor – my first time driving on the A1! And we learnt to upholster Boston side chairs. After that I was taken on full time and I’ve never looked back.

This job has provided me with opportunities to do so many different things. In July 2017 we were repairing furniture for the DFDS cross channel ferry. We got on the ferry at Dover and worked all night for two weeks, crossing back and forth and sleeping during the day. Mother Nature was kind to us that time and there were no strong swells, so no seasickness, though I think I’d got my sea legs anyway by the end.

Bill even asked me to go up to Glasgow with him to an awards ceremony. We might not have won that award but staying at a five star hotel and going to the ceremony at Glasgow City Chambers more than made up for that. It was fantastic.

Looking back, I’m really glad I stayed on here because it has changed my life and given me a lot of confidence. Now I’m also working four days a month at British Steel as a lubricating technician, working on the machines when they shut down the mill every month. I’m enjoying that too – it’s messy but it’s great, and really practical, which I know now is what I enjoy.