STANDFIRST: STEELWORKERS laid off when SSI closed are forging new careers.

STEVE Potter feared he would have to move to another part of the country in search of a new job after the region's last iron and steel plant closed last October.

Although he was retained by the official receiver for three months to help decommission the plant, his chances of finding a new job looked bleak.

Mr Potter, 47, said: “After 30 years working in the steel industry I thought there was no chance of getting another job on Teesside.

“I had all the skills, but there was no work. My options were limited: either retrain and start all over again, or uproot my family and move to another part of the country to find a job which suited my skills.”

Mr Potter, who lives in Normanby, had worked for SSI as a specialist asset integrity inspector, checking and maintaining the network of pipes and tanks that criss-crossed the 98-year-old Redcar works.

Luckily for him, those skills proved to be just what Stockton-based company Axiom Engineering Associates was looking for.

Axiom is one of the world’s leading failure analysis, preventative maintenance and inspection companies. Its engineers work with firms in the petro-chemical, automotive, storage and pharmaceuticals industries all over the world.

Dr Rene Hoyle, who founded Axiom with fellow engineer Adam Potter in 2003, explained: “We were looking for a new inspector around the time SSI was closing. Steve fitted the bill perfectly. He had the right experience and the right attitude to become part of Axiom.”

With funding received through the SSI Task Force for both training and wage subsidy Axiom is organising for Mr Potter to retrain to internationally-recognised standards through the PCN certification scheme.

He said: "After such a disappointing conclusion to my steel industry career I feel as though I’ve really landed on my feet. This is a new beginning.

"I couldn’t have wished for a better job and I hope I’ll be working at Axiom for a very long time."

ANDY Baker, 42, from Middlesbrough, was left devastated when SSI UK was liquidated but he soon saw the closure as an opportunity to fulfil a dream and set up Velocity Sports Coaching.

Over the last eight years, he has volunteered as a football coach at Nunthorpe Athletic and has always had a passionate for coaching.

He said: "I thought it would be great to make a career out of a hobby. I will be working in local schools to deliver coaching for children aged between 5- 11 and my wife Claire is planning to get involved to help grow the business.

"Applying for the SSI Task Force Business Advice Start Up Fund was brilliant, it was very easy and I felt very supported by my mentor who helped me to develop my business plan. From submitting the plan to receiving the grant it only took a week. I was amazed at how quickly it all worked. I’d certainly recommend the scheme to anyone it was first class."

Amanda Skelton, Chair of the SSI Task Force, added: "It’s not unusual for someone to decide that they want a complete change of career after being made redundant, and I am pleased that Task Force funding has been able to support Andy to do something that he is passionate about. The funds are there to support both individuals and businesses, and I would encourage people to get in touch to see how we can help."