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Moving from helicopter pilot to chimney sweep might not seem the most obvious career move, but for one former oil and gas worker it’s been the ideal fresh start.

Ian Ellis had spent 14 years as a pilot in the sector, and coupled with an earlier stint as an engineer had spent over two decades working in oil and gas.

But being made redundant still came as a shock and left him wondering where to turn.

 “In previous downturns I’d seen people lose their jobs at both end of the pay scale while those in the middle which is where I was managed to escape, but I wasn’t so lucky this time,” he said.

“It was a horrible thing to go through, and I was left thinking what I would do next.”

It was his DIY skills which gave the 55-year-old from Kintore in Aberdeenshire an idea.

He explained: “The last couple of properties we’ve lived in – one in Methlick and one in Kintore – are ones we’ve renovated. In Kintore we stripped it right back and changed the layout of the entire house.

“One of the things I did was re-install the wood burning stove which had been put in really badly. I took it out, serviced it, replaced bits, cleaned it and re-installed it back in.

“The Inverurie Fireplace Centre were kind enough to give me enough advice so I could do it properly while observing all the regulations, and it left me wondering if I should go into the installation business as I was applying for every job under the sun but getting nowhere.

“I think being 55 was a hurdle. I had already picked up some work as a handyman, then a former neighbour suggested I do a HETAS course in stove installation – that’s the body that regulates these things.

“I went back to the Inverurie Fireplace Centre who said they would be able to give me work if I did the course, but they added the one thing they were really struggling for was chimney sweeps.

“I went out for a week’s work experience with a member of the Guild of Master Chimneysweeps and I thought it was definitely something I could do.”

It was when receiving some advice from Elevator about going into business for himself that Ian first heard about the Transition Training Fund, which is administered on behalf of the Scottish Government by Skills Development Scotland (SDS).

He said: “I was able to get a letter from the Inverurie Fireplace Centre explaining that they were desperately short of sweeps and that I would be able to get work if I did the training.

“I applied and at same I also got approval for the HETAS training in stove installation, which I’ll be doing next year. Starting as a sweep has been a good way to do it as working as a chimney sweep, you learn a great deal about installations and what to do and what not to do.”

Ian travelled to Ireland to attend a week-long training course offered by the Guild of Master Chimneysweeps which included a written exam.

“I did some more work experience after the training, then I had to go down to Barnsley to be assessed, I sat another written exam and I received my qualification at the end of it,” he said.

Having started work in September, Ian now finds work through his listing on the Guild of Master Chimneysweeps website, coupled with leaflets and a Facebook page.

And he’s expecting business to pick up further when he undertakes his stove installation training.

“A lot of people have asked me if I do stove installation, and the guys that are already qualified to do it up here are working flat out, fully booked weeks, if not months in advance,” he said.

He now credits the Transition Training Fund with giving him the support he needed to go ahead and turn the idea into a new career.

The fund is open to anyone who has worked in the oil and gas sector or in the oil and gas supply chain as an employee or contractor and has either been made redundant or is at risk of redundancy.

Applicants must be actively looking for work and be able to show that the training they wish to undertake will help them find a new job.

Applicants must also live in Scotland, and have either worked in Scotland in their current or previous job or be returning to Scotland to look for work from an overseas post.

“It gave me the push I needed,” Ian said.

“It definitely made the difference so it was a real help.

“Having that support was the deciding factor between me going ahead and doing this or continuing to try and find a regular job."

“It made me decide that I would do it, make a go of it and enjoy it, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

“My wife says I’m happier now I’m out of the oil and gas industry, and there’s a lot to be said for being your own boss, it’s very satisfying.

“I’d 100 per cent recommend the Transition Training Fund to others and I’m very grateful for the support.”

“Having that support was the deciding factor between me going ahead and doing this or continuing to try and find a regular job."

Ian Ellis

What's next?

To find out more visit or call SDS on 0808 100 1855 for more information.

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