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Interested in a cool creative career in design and manufacture? You'll love Richard's story

Interested in a cool creative career in design and manufacture? You'll love Richard's story

Richard Parker, Owner, Black Chilli Design, Partner in Elite Event Hire

What did you want to be when you were 16?
There wasn't the wide choice of careers that are available today and industry apprenticeships were common but I wanted to go to Art College.

What did you end up doing when you left school?
My dad and his side of the family were involved in farming in one way or another so I went down that path. I left school at 16 and had two years working on farms before taking a three-year Diploma in Agriculture. For a few years after college, I did various farm-related jobs including Farm Management, Animal Feed Sales and Agricultural Contracting, I also spent several months as part of a team travelling across Sweden putting up silos on dairy farms.

Describe a day in your life at work:
Every day is different, even if the project is a big one, as it evolves and is built the tasks change with it. But typically my work involves talking to clients so I understand what they are looking to achieve, designing and planning, deciding on materials and calculating quantities, cutting components, assembling, glueing, laminating, filling, sanding and preparing for the finish which might be applied by brush, roller, spray gun or airbrush, applying decals and graphics and because it is a business there is the invoicing, accounts, bills to pay, social media, website etc.

Why do you love your job/career?
It is creative work, initially requiring the ability to visualise and use your imagination, then it becomes practical as you make the concept or idea come to life, this means working very precisely and accurately and I love to do both. Many things I am asked to make are unique, there are no plans to follow and I love that problem-solving element.

This work brings me in contact with other creative people who have amazing ideas and it's hugely satisfying to be part of a project you have seen grow from a few thoughts and sketches into something real, which once only existed in someone's imagination.

I really love the fact that while some of my knowledge and skills have been hard earned and difficult, virtually all my experiences have been worthwhile and have brought all my skills together, creating a unique business that works on fantastic, innovative projects across lots of industries.


How did you get into your career?
Once I decided that I wanted to do this type of work, I started by working in the furniture industry. I spent several years working for various furniture companies and at the same time read and studied everything I could about furniture design, tools and techniques. After I felt I knew enough of the basics I started my own business designing and making furniture, mainly kitchens and bedrooms.

As time went on I moved into more specialist areas which meant learning about working with other materials such as steel, glass, laminates, solid surfacing, electrical actuators etc but the payoff was designing and making innovative furniture for education, special needs, commercial buildings, offices, architects and construction companies. I think the fundamental thing is that I really wanted to do this work. If I couldn't learn something from other people I taught myself.


What qualifications did you study?
I didn't complete any qualifications because there weren't any available that covered the range and applications of the work I was doing. It is a bit of a problem getting qualifications in this business because of the innovation and diversity of the work and the skill set needed. I think the people who are successful in this area should be able to have a qualification that recognises their skills formally and I hope that will be possible before too long.


Do you have any advice for getting into your sector?
My work is quite extreme in terms of the variety of projects, but it can be broken down into different areas, such as woodworking, steel work, painting and finishing, fabrics, designing, fibreglassing etc. All of these sectors feed into my work and many are available as courses at Toi Ohomai and as work placements.

My advice is to find the area that interests you, get the basics and use that platform to experiment and learn yourself. This work is all about people who can coordinate their imagination with their own hands, using whatever materials or techniques are needed.


What do you wish you had done differently?
Nothing really. Being largely self-taught, I wasn't confined by conventional thinking, so because I didn't know otherwise when I was asked if I could do something I would say yes and figure it out afterwards. Although different routes may have been easier I can't think what I could have done to shortcut or increase the knowledge I have now.


What would you say to your teenage self about defining your future?
Develop your resilience, it is the defining trait which allows you to acknowledge and accept your mistakes, deal with life's knockbacks, learn from them and get on with things. Never assume you know it all and stop learning. Don't let money and material things dominate your life, be as good as you can be at whatever you choose and the money will follow. Understand when lots of people tell you something isn't possible, that most times they are right, but recognise the occasion when they are not, trust yourself and don't be afraid to try something difficult.