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Home » 10 Questions For Nik Smith Of Oakes Energy Services

10 Questions For Nik Smith Of Oakes Energy Services

Nik Smith has more than 30 years’ experience in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) industry and in renewables. The chartered engineer is a voting member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers.

What was your first job (and what did it pay)? My first job was as an apprentice heating, ventilation and air conditioning engineer working for Crown House Engineering at Killingworth, Newcastle. I started the four-year apprenticeship when I left school at 16 and was paid £27.50 per week and attended Newcastle College on block release.

What is the best advice or support you’ve been given in business? The best support I was given was by Keith Malpass, a former boss, who mentored me to develop into what I am today. I have met a lot of fantastic businesspeople and excellent engineers over my time in the industry, but it is very rare to find a person like Keith who is both. He is the epitome of an entrepreneur. I find myself repeating things he said to me regularly; only yesterday I said to one of our graduate engineers that “problems were only solutions in disguise”.

The best advice I have received would be to mix with, engage and employ like-minded and motivated people.

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What are the main changes that you’ve seen in your business/sector, and what are the challenges you’re facing? One of the most significant challenges we face in our sector is the skills shortage, from an office and installation perspective. It is becoming progressively worse. For years the construction trade hasn’t been a popular choice for school leavers, to the point where we can’t get commercial HVAC engineers trained in Newcastle as the college closed its course some years ago, so we must ship 16 year-olds to Hartlepool and Middlesbrough for college.

A considerable emphasis on training is required for any business to have a future vision. With more talent leaving the UK to work in the Far East than ever, the trade is progressively getting more and more stretched.

How has the pandemic changed the way you work? Since the pandemic, we have embraced online meetings via Teams and Zoom. We used to travel all over the country for meetings and we are now able to manage our time and our carbon footprint more efficiently.

Who is your role model in business? My dad is my role model in business and life; he instilled a hard work ethic in me and my brother. His mantra is never to ask anyone to do anything you can’t do yourself, by that he meant that we should work our way up the chain from apprentices to directors and be able to do every job in the process, which means our staff and colleagues respect us more and we can make more informed decisions. I did this and by the time I started my own business at 30, nearly 20 years ago, I was confident that I had all the tools I needed to succeed.

What would your dream job be? Good question! I do enjoy my job and the people I work with but would probably say a teacher/professor. I have a passion for training and developing engineers, however, teaching golf as a professional in the Portugal sunshine would be a dream but would involve me becoming a lot better than I currently am!

What advice would you give to someone starting out a career in your sector? The same advice I was given: “Never ask anyone to do anything you can’t do yourself”, which has worked for me. Also, never stop listening and learning. Push yourself to be the best you can be. If you do this, opportunities are limitless particularly given that there are so many specialist fields, from data centres in the Far East, to universities in Australasia and army bases or hospitals in Europe.

What makes the North East a good place to do business? People are generally honest, straight-talking, hardworking and want to see you succeed. I have always said that I want my competition to thrive and have general concern every time a main contractor faces difficulty and there a chance that they become casualties.

The capabilities that we have delivered allows us to extend our reach beyond the North East, to other areas where they appreciate the skills and work ethic of quality North East businesses like ourselves. We are currently delivering major projects in Bangor, Salisbury, Lincoln, Grantham and Whitehaven being a mixture of PV, ASHP, chillers and boiler room upgrades.

How important do you think it is for business to play a role in society? All businesses need to play a role in society, from their economic contribution, through innovation and progress, social responsibility, job creation, employee well-being, community engagement and environmental sustainability. Our trade, with regard to renewable energy, should be embracing this and new technology at every opportunity. Simply relying on the Government to tighten up legislation on this isn’t enough and won’t happen quickly enough to achieve the ambitious net zero targets stated. We should all be encouraging and mentoring students in the trade at school and university level.

Outside of work, what areyou really good at? Being a husband, and son, and dad to my daughter and son, giving them sound advice and try my best to inspire them to push themselves every day. I also love keeping fit, playing golf and walking in the Lakes.

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