Paul Hennessey left school with no qualifications and through his own determination and willingness to adapt and innovate is now owner of a National training business that is within touching distance of a £1m turnover.
And, influenced by his own experience, Paul’s approach is to create opportunities to help people get into employment.
“I want to show people how easy it is to get a job,” said Paul, founder of Adapt (UK) Training Services based in Knowsley. “I believe creating opportunities for people to improve their chances in life is the right thing to do.”
Paul launched the business in Skelmersdale in 2002, using his credit card. It later moved to Knowsley and now employs 10 people. Adapt’s training courses are mainly focused on work equipment within the construction and warehousing sectors. Skills such as operating forklift trucks or heavy plant, as well as health and safety consultancy.
It has a diverse customer base which includes, or has included, industrial giant Siemens, whose staff would fly over from Hungary to Knowsley to undertake their training, as well as staff from the McLaren Formula 1 racing team who receive training both in Knowsley and at their own base in Surrey.
Paul decided to get the qualifications to become a forklift trainer in 2002. He added: “It was either that or become a primary school teacher. I paid £1,500 for the course myself. It felt like a bold move at the time.
“Then I realised just having the qualification wasn’t enough on its own. There were other business expenses that I needed to shell out for so I ‘took a chance’ with my credit card. My first year turnover was just £8,000 but still had some agency work to fall back on.”
He relocated the business from Skelmersdale to Knowsley in 2006 and became a limited company in 2008 and started to take on staff for the first time. Adapt reality started to take off in 2009 when it took on a 1,500 sq ft unit.
Another unit was added three years ago and, more recently, Adapt has taken a further 2,500 sq ft office space and has recently refurbished the condition.
“When I first started the business it was initially a tough journey,” explained Paul. “One thing that really helped was the start of something called Skillworks. It was an EU-funded programme that would pay firms 80% of their training costs. The idea was to support companies following the 2008 crash.”
Much of Adapt’s work is currently in the North West and the Isle of Man but the company operates a training facility in the Asian republic of Azerbaijan. Paul explained how this came about.
He said: “We got an email from Azerbaijan one day inquiring about one of our forklift courses. Of course, like everyone, we are used to scam emails coming from overseas but there was something about this one that seemed genuine.
“So it was arranged for the guy to fly over here to Knowsley to do his training. On the day he was due to start at 9am no one showed up. So we thought ‘ok, maybe this wasn’t genuine’. Then, at 10am, the guy walks through the door.
“So that led to us establishing a great relationship and we now run a training centre out there and we are accredited to offer training according to their regulations through the NPORS scheme. We also still see people come over here for training as well.”
Adapt really lived up to its name during the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly pivoting to operate in a very different environment. However, initially, Paul felt overwhelmed by the crises and it took him a few weeks to get his head around what needed to be done.
He explained: “I do all of our accounts and when we had to shut down I was faced with having to sort out the furloughing of staff. The accountant we used was already inundated with work and so I had to face it myself. I got pretty stressed and it was personally a very stressful time.
“There was a Government minister (Alok Sharma) talking on the television about how firms needed to adapt their workplaces. Adapt is our name so that is exactly what we did. Three weeks into the first lockdown we started to look at opening up again.
“We started to get calls from clients who wanted to continue the training. So we worked out how to do that safely. Bringing people in for training and implementing things such as social distancing. I put something out on Linked In about what we were doing and it got a really good response.
“If you are training 12 people at a time then you need to make sure you have enough space to have social distancing. That was one of the main reasons we took on the extra 2,500 sq ft unit. It allowed us to do that rather than paying to hire bigger spaces.
“The work was still there but we were careful about what we took on as we wanted to make sure we did it properly. One problem we had was cancellations. If people tested positive then they would have to cancel. We didn’t charge them in those instances, we just took it on the chin.”
Paul’s innovative approach paid dividends. Adapt achieved its best-ever turnover in 2020, exceeding £800,000. He added: “That £1m is our next target and if it hadn’t been for the pandemic I think we would have passed it easily.
“We are now quite optimistic for the coming months. During the pandemic I think a lot of companies cut back on training. They were just trying to survive. Now that has bounced back and they are looking to play catch-up.
“That is good news for us and I can see us hitting our £1m target soon, a success we would like to share with our employees. We will be looking to take on more staff and grow the team in the next few months. Our main focus has been in the Liverpool city region but I would like to expand the business and my plan is to open a new site in the North and South and expand from there.”
Paul has recently taken on the volunteering role as commercial officer for AFC Knowsley (www.afcknowsley.co.uk) who have just been allocated £1.2m to develop a new Pavilion at the Lord Derby Playing fields on Knowsley Lane. The idea of the pavilion (amongst football) is to encourage the community to use their facilities to enhance lifestyle and learning.
Paul said “This is a great opportunity for the local residents to access a public space that will help with fitness, employment and socialising – its much needed after the pandemic.”
If you would like to get involved in the AFC Knowsley project contact Paul Hennessey direct by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org