Belfast Telegraph

Something in the air for apprentice to gain skills

Day 94: Entrepreneur wants to reinvigorate ethos of training

By Margaret Canning

The owner of an independent air conditioning firm in Co Londonderry is set to take on an apprentice in response to the Belfast Telegraph's 100 jobs in 100 days campaign.

Entrepreneur Martin Mullen started up Air Cool Engineering in Limavady 15 years ago from a room in his home.

"I started it from scratch, doing the pricing, the installation and the whole nine yards," he said. "I took on my first two staff in the first year and it's been growing ever since. I have 19 employees now - and I'm taking on another two next week."

Mr Mullen said he wanted to take on an apprentice to reinvigorate the ethos of training in the company.

"We have had youngsters over the years who have attended Lisburn College for a City and Guilds in refrigeration and air conditioning," he said.

"Those one-time apprentices are now getting to a stage in their careers where they are now senior tradesmen. It's now time for the apprentices to have apprentices themselves."

Mr Mullen added: "We fully support the Belfast Telegraph's 100 jobs in 100 days campaign.

"If we don't invest in this generation of young people we will be found wanting when the economy recovers. We need to provide essential skills for young people."

He said that his firm had been hit by the recession, like all construction-linked trades.

"It's no secret, everybody's suffered," he said. "A year ago I could have said, let's shut up shop. But we just put our heads down and got on with it, and that was by working 60 or 70-hour weeks to get through it and surrounding ourselves with the best people."

Now the company is doing business all around the UK and Ireland. It provides air conditioning for a major retail chain in Ireland and for fashion retailers in England and Scotland.

It has also completed hospital work in Sheffield and installed air conditioning in gyms in Carlisle, Chesterfield and Darlington.

Mr Mullen, who started his career in 1982, said: "I served my time in plumbing and electrical services around Limavady and did my City and Guilds."

His career took him to Australia, London and then back to Northern Ireland - before returning to England for a course in building services at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Polytechnic.

Mr Mullen credits that path with bringing him into air conditioning.

"It got me off the site environment and into the office environment and got me thinking again," he added.

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