Being your own boss can be just the job!
WHEN the gates closed on the final shift at Ford's Linamar plant in Jersey Marine it meant enforced retirement for many who had worked there man and boy.
A once hugely busy plant that had buzzed with activity for the best part of 45 years was no more.
With it went 200 jobs.
But one former toolmaker there has given his own story an upbeat new chapter, and he is now enjoying life as a self-employed plumber .
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He is one of a growing number setting up in business in an economic downturn.
Figures just out show there were around 7,500 new business start ups in Wales last year.
Amongst them are people like Nigel Lewis, 54, who started retraining part-time when there was an inkling that the writing was on the wall for the Jersey Marine plant. When the axe did fall he put all of his efforts into carving out a new living for himself.
As a toolmaker the chances of Nigel finding another job locally in such a specialist field were slim, so plumbing proved to be a canny move for him.
Experts suggest around 90 per cent of new businesses survive beyond their first year, and 44 per cent or so will still be around after five years. If they are, then the rewards can be decent.
Entrepreneur Simon Cosgrove says that if people have the passion, energy and belief in what they do, then ''anytime'' can be the right time to set up a business. "One key advantage of a downturn is there are fewer people competing against you,''he says.
"And if you can make a business work in tough times, then you should thrive in the good times.''
Growing numbers are now beating a path to launching their own business.
Yes, the margin for error is much smaller in tough economic times so budding entrepreneurs need to consider the financial viability of their business very carefully.
But if they can break through, the gains can be sizeable.
Plumber Nigel says once his job went and he had been unemployed for some months, he was signed up to a Government scheme, The New Enterprise Allowance, which helps to retrain those who have been made redundant to make the most of their skills and their work experience.
It opened new doors for him when he might have been left on the scrap heap.
"It has been great,'' he says.
"I was made redundant two years ago and when I was first on this scheme I was given £65 a week for six months, then it is cut down to half of that.
"That just helps in those early days of getting started. I was also given a £1,000 loan to help me retrain, which meant I was able to finish my plumbing training and I could train to do gas and oil boilers.
Nigel adds: " I was going into territory I knew nothing about.
"The £65 a week makes the start-up period much easier to cope with, it's a security net."
According to Employment Minister Chris Grayling Nigel is among about 300 children's play centre directors, cake makers, language tutors, hairdressers, painters and decorators, martial arts instructors and others who have set up their own businesses on the back of the scheme, which partners job seekers with a mentor to draw up a business plan, then it gives financial support to help people through the early months of the fledgling business.
Andri Matthews is a former bank worker, whose redundancy gave her the push to set up a gardening business.
Luckily for her the company she departed offered career counselling for all of those about to leave.
And it was at that point she realised garden design was something that had been in the back of her mind for years.
Nigel, from Swansea's White Street, has been in business since April, with word of mouth recommendations keeping him ticking over nicely he says.
"Because I worked in the factory I know a lot of people and I have handed out my cards to everyone.
"And friends and family pass my name on to people, because everyone needs a plumber don't they?" While being your own boss comes with its own pressures, not least that the buck stops with you, Nigel is enjoying the autonomy of his new life, he says.
"I can start when I want and finish when I want. No more shift work. And I am my own boss."
While some of his colleagues from Ford retired when the plant shut, some have gone on to work at Trostre steelworks and Tata, some for Toyoda Gorseinon, and some are working as handymen.
And Nigel says in these tough times people need to think as creatively as they can about their work choices, and tap into their entrepreneurial spirit.
Robert Kissick from Cockett worked for the NHS until a couple of months ago.
These days he is building his own house, and when that project is done and dusted he aims to set up his own plumbing firm.
He says the working world has changed so much that more should be done to foster an entrepreneurial, independent spirit among youngsters.
"I think even at school they should teach more practical subjects and help them with the skills you need to run a small business, like book-keeping,'' he adds.
"It is the way things are going now. And it is these kind of skills which can prove invaluable."
Nigel agrees. One of his children, also practically minded, is working as an electrical engineer at the moment, while the other two are studying.
"It is hard out there. I have three children, with one at university and one hoping to go to Tycoch College, so I hope my children all find jobs.
"But I think more and more people are going to be running their own businesses in the future. "People are going to have to think differently about their careers, but it isn't always a bad thing.
"It is working out for me. I am enjoying the work and it is ticking over."