Gateway to business owner and employer

Posted on 2017-05-22 by CM

Adam Leathem had to talk his teachers into letting him do the Gateway programme at high school, but his persistence has well and truly paid off.  At just 26 Adam is a business owner and an employer and has goals to expand his New Plymouth metal fabrication business Spark. Back in 2007, Gateway was in its early stages and was targeted at giving year 13 students career options in their final year of school, but Adam, a year 12 student at Francis Douglas Memorial College, was already focused on his future and wanted to get out and experience the working world. “I was at the stage where I knew school wasn't really for me, I knew I wasn't going to go to uni, and I wanted to do a trade,” Adam says. “The school hadn't had a year 12 student on Gateway before, so I had to talk them into letting me do it.” Talking his teachers around Adam became the youngest student on the programme and had work placements arranged at Steelfab Limited and McCurdy Engineering, doing the “boy's jobs” of measuring, cutting, and drilling holes in brackets, while also doing a welding course at school. 

He quickly impressed and, just six months into the Gateway programme and only 17 years old, was offered an apprenticeship at Steelfab. “I loved the job and the work involved, and the people were great to work with as well,” he says. After almost four years at Steelfab, Adam completed his apprenticeship and gained the National Certificate in Engineering – Fabrication level 4. Eager to learn more skills and try something else, he spent the next few years working in the oil and gas industry in New Zealand and off the coast of China and Australia, doing work such as seismic surveying and drilling.

With the industry starting to slow down, Adam decided to return to his roots and set up an engineering business in New Plymouth. “I had mates out on their own doing the likes of building and plumbing, but no one in my age bracket was doing engineering, so I decided to give it a go,” Adam says. Spark Metal Fabrication Ltd was born in November 2015 and specialises in stainless steel and aluminium fabrication, and structural steel and seismic strengthening. While setting up has been expensive, with new pieces of machinery needed as the business has grown, Spark has been a success. Adam has taken on his first tradesman and has already had to expand into larger premises. “It is hard work, but you expect that with your own business,” he says.

He says Gateway was a “very important first step” on his journey to owning his own business, but he is not sitting still. He aims to eventually have four or five staff, and would gladly have a Gateway student come and get a taste of an engineering career.  “Gateway gave me the foot in the door at Steelfab, and gave me the chance to see exactly what the job involved, so I'm really thankful for that. If I could help someone else get a start on their career, that would be great.”

Taranaki Futures acknowledges and supports the achievements of young people in our region. Our vision is Strong Employment, Strong People, Stronger Communities.