Hakim Wais, 41, is the Managing Director of the new Burngreave Community Learning Academy.
He moved from Burngreave to Netherthorpe a couple of years ago, where he lives with his wife and three children: Zara, who is 14, Mohammed, 11, and Yasmin aged 10. His wife, Ubah works as a part-time teaching assistant at Netherthorpe Primary School.
He came to Europe in the 1980s after a decade working as a Senior Process Operator in the Arabian Gulf oil industry. He wanted to go into business buying and selling secondhand cars in Africa. “I always loved big cars and wagons, especially American,” he says, “But I asked myself: if you don’t know anything about them, how are you going to buy and sell them?!”
So he started training as a HGV driver, finding work in north-east Holland with Van der Graaf Transport as a European driver, transporting everything from tractors to tulips. He moved quickly up the career ladder, and finally bought the company.
Wais Transport lasted five years, but a shortage of trained drivers meant a seven-day working week for Hakim: “I ended up managing the company from the cabin of a wagon. My wife was telling me ‘Hakim, get your act together: the kids need a father.’” The friction in his family got worse and worse, until one day Hakim returned from Denmark to find no-one home and a note on the kitchen table from his wife: “It’s me or the trucks.” That’s when he decided to sell up and move to Sheffield permanently.
He quickly realised that quite a lot of the community had difficulty finding work. The large-scale closure of industry in Sheffield meant there was a shortage of jobs everywhere. Speaking to Somali and Yemeni refugees, Hakim became aware that their papers were being delayed for years; and then there were the problems of the language barrier and skills shortages.
“This is where the idea of NETT (National Ethnic Transport Training) came from. I knew what it was like trying to find good drivers, and I knew there was a shortage of drivers in the country, so I set up a not-for-profit training scheme.”
Having successfully trained many new drivers over two years in NETT, Hakim was eager for a new challenge: “Being me, I had to do something else.” So he opened Burngreave Community Learning Academy in March 2005.
The six staff at the centre assist their students in Skills For Life training, the ECDL computer course and in learning to drive. Two hundred learners have passed through the centre so far, and 600 more are enrolled. “Some of them are going into employment; some are going into education,” says Hakim. “We give them a platform to fly away from, into whatever they want to do with their life.”
“It’s here for you. It’s for all the community and everybody can use it. It’s free for people on benefits. There is a minimal contribution from those who are working; it’s almost free. Word processing will cost you only £10 for the whole course. Come and take advantage of what’s available for you.”
Plans for the future are hectic. Before the end of next month the centre will have their driving school up and running, with a new driving instructor. Over the next six months, Hakim is working on broadening the courses available, delivering Skills For Life, IT, Business Management, and on top of that the driving school. That should keep him busy for a while…
Burngreave Community Learning Academy
30 Burngreave Road S3 9DD, tel: 275 1270, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Jennifer McKiernan