In this new article series I Want That Job! I'll be interviewing people from various professions within the climbing world. If you think your job is a dream come true (it has to be climbing related) and if you're willing to be interviewed - then drop me a line. Likewise if you can think of a job that you'd like to have - suggest it in the forums and I'll try and track someone down.
It's the turn of Jim Nichols, Operations Director at Entre-Prises Climbing Walls. Jim is the captain of the ship at the countries biggest climbing wall manufacturer. Enter-Prises were the brains behind the latest Sky Master competition wall; designing and building state of the art climbing walls like that has got to be great fun, right?
Jim 'on a work trip' near Grenoble
© Jim Nichols, Mar 2008
Name: James Nichols
Jim Nichols - Company Man
© Jim Nichols, Mar 2008
Job Title: Operations Director, Entre-Prises Climbing Walls.
Relevant Qualifications: 10 years in the climbing wall business! My official qualification is a BSc in Industrial Design Eng. which gave me my foot in the door, but I definitely wouldn't have got the job if I wasn't a climber as well.
Salary: Not as much as you'd think, but building climbing walls is more interesting than your average job.
Perks and holidays/time off: 25 days holiday and the option to blow it all at once on a big expedition if needed. There is also a fairly significant amount of international travel. At the moment I fly to Dubai twice a month!
Describe your job: I have to do a little of everything including making the coffee (occasionally!) but my main role is running the project management department. I have a small team of extremely hard working project managers who take the projects from sketch to reality. Our job is very demanding because every wall is different and hand built requiring both a high level of technical understanding and very good organisational skills. Today modern climbing walls often involving cutting edge engineering to achieve huge aesthetic structures that can also withstand the forces that climbers create by falling off them. Its our job to make it happen safely.
How did you get to where you are now? As part of my degree course I was required to find a years placement at a suitable company. I sent letters to all the outdoor industries I could find... EP gave me a break. Unfortunately the placement team at the university nearly didn't let me accept, as the salary offered was only £4800 for the whole year! I overruled them and spent a year learning AutoCAD and how to design and sell climbing walls. After I finished my degree EP gave me a full time position.
What attracted you to the job in the first place? What can I say? It combines two of my favourite things; climbing and making things. I think the main reason is actually the people you meet. The outdoor industry is full of people who think alike, as a result virtually all of my best friends are those I've met through work.
How long have you been in the job now? How long do you see yourself continuing? I've been there ten years now. I always said I'd stay 'until I grow up and get a real job', but I guess I might as well stick with it now I don't want to grow up any more.
Describe your average day at work? And the average week? I walk into work most days as luckily I live just round the corner. Generally I'll do a quick tour of the workshop to check on production and then on Mondays straight into a planning meeting where we work out how to build the current walls. After that we all have to get down to managing our own projects, whether its checking final designs, organising transport, access requirements, overseeing production, going on site visits or solving the multitude of 'little' problems that always pop up unexpectedly. With over 20 projects running at the same time it can get quite hectic. Because of the erratic nature of the climbing wall business we have to be a very fast acting and flexible organisation.
Is it how you/other people imagine it to be? Not at all. Most people think the sum total of designing climbing walls is so you just change those coloured blobs around then?
The best day? Opening the Bendrigg Trust climbing wall, which was specifically designed for disabled users. Seeing what climbing can do for disabled kids was really good, even Sir Chris managed to get up it!
The worst day? Loosing our welder Roy to Cancer in 2006. He was an amazing character who probably stuck together over half of the climbing walls in the UK.
Why is it great being a Operations Director, and why is it rubbish? Its great because your in charge and you get to make decisions on how to do things. Its rubbish...because your in charge and you have to make decisions on how to do things!
Do you 'love' your job? Why? Why not? I think I do....er...yes/no...blue?
If a teenager said to you 'I want to work in the climbing wall industry, like you' what would you say? Recommend it? Warn them off? Laugh?! Only if they promised to come and work for us, there's too much competition out there already. If you don't mind getting covered in resin and fibreglass, working in production or installation can be a great way of funding climbing trips. As a designer you'd get to put your own personal mark on something that you will probably be using yourself at the weekend, either way its always nice to be able to raise eyebrows when asked... 'what do you do then?'
Any tips and advice on how to get to where you've got to? Climb loads and learn how to use power tools.
Any friends through work? If your work is even remotely involved with climbing you'll have close friends. On top of that building climbing walls is the original way to subsidise a full time climbers existence. The hardest thing is finding the time to actually go climbing with them!
Any amazing stories? Too many from my days as an installer but in my current position.... I couldn't possibly comment.
And finally - What's your dream job? Why? Superhero, but I'm lacking in the super bits.
Jim can be found in deepest darkest Lancashire, polishing his Triumph Bonneville and dreaming about his next climbing trip. When climbing, he prefers cams to wires, as with his limited time to climb, wires just take far too long. He has also been known to enjoy a party or two.