Podcast Ep 165: By embracing digital trends Chevron College CEO Karl Fitzpatrick is ambitious about opportunities to provide certified training locally and globally.
It was while sitting at Dublin Airport in 2007 on the way to a friend’s wedding in Dubai that Chevron College CEO Karl Fitzpatrick noticed an article in a business magazine about the new Building Energy Rating (BER) certification that was arriving at the time.
This was a date with destiny.
“We’re on target to train about 8,500 people this year and turnover around €15m. We have a team of around 150 employed. We see an opportunity for us to be able to double the size of the business in Ireland alone over the next three-to-five years”
Fitzpatrick was intrigued by the new BER certification and sensed a new business opportunity. Many of the people on the flight with him were in the construction industry, working as architects, engineers and surveyors. Those he spoke to agreed that BER assessments could be a lucrative business field.
He moved quickly and noticed a paucity in available courses but signed up for one that cost €2,000 for five days of training. “There were 20 other people on the course and I realised that there was €40,000 worth of training happening over a 5-day period. I quickly realised that the opportunity was actually in the training and not in the assessing of buildings. So that’s where it really started.”
Timing is everything
It was while scoping out how to become a certified training business that Fitzpatrick met the owner of Chevron College who at the time had been providing mandatory training to the security sector. Realising that if he didn’t move fast the opportunity to captialise on BER training would be gone, he made a proposal to buy half of the business at the time in order to capture what he described as a “tsunami wave of BER assessor training opportunities” about to engulf Ireland.
Zoom forward to early 2023 and Wexford-based Fitzpatrick’s Chevron College is now one of the biggest e-learning players focused on providing certified training programmes in the healthcare, childcare and renewable energy sectors to more than 5,000 students per annum.
The business recently acquired a Dublin-based Oiliúna Training and is creating 50 jobs over the next two years. Operating from a state-of-the-art training centre in Blanchardstown, Oiliúna has vast experience in delivering career-focused education programmes in the areas of business, management and IT.
In effect, Fitzpatrick’s empire is expanding and he told the ThinkBusiness Podcast how he wants to capitalise on the latest advancements in digital to become a leading player in this space.
He said that the fact that there will always be opportunitie sto meet the requirements for mandatory training within various sectors “is the ultimate ethos that underpinned the business.”
For example sparking upon training opportunities in renewable energy became an initial template for the business. Chevron developed a mobile training lab and a training methodology around wind, solar, photovoltaic and biomass accreditation that could be packed up and rolled out in hotels across 26 counties nationwide.
Fitzpatrick became the full owner of Chevron College in 2012 and focused on expanding the focus of the business to include childcare and healthcare training. “We build up a whole range of mandatory training requirements for both sectors. We identified this opportunity 18 months before the new regulations came in in 2012 and 2013 and we continue to deliver these successfully today.”
He also spotted the opportunity of expanding from further education into higher education with diploma and Master’s degrees and did so by forging collaborative partnerships with universities in the UK. In 2015 a successful partnership with the University of East London saw Chevron jointly develop a childcare degree and Master’s programme. A similar joint venture followed in 2017 with the University of Sunderland to develop a new suite of healthcare qualifications.
As Chevron expanded its academic portfolio, Fitzpatrick directed the business down the acquisition route, beginning with Carlow-based English Language Ireland in 2020, which accelerated the company’s transition into e-learning.
The timing was impeccable. “Covid actually accelerated adult learners towards e-learning by about five years and it surged during Covid and that trend is being maintained up to this current day. Covid actually doubled the size of our business.”
The acquisition of Oiliúna Training provides Chevron with access to state-of-the-art training facilities in Dublin. Oiliúna Training has for more than 22 years successfully provided business-to-government training. “They had a speciality in business and IT programmes that we did not have within Chevron. And these were the two areas that we were finding Government was spending an awful lot of money on and we couldn’t get in and compete because we didn’t have a track-record in that space. So that is what fundamentally attracted us to Oiliúna Training.”
Prior to the acquisition Chevron and Oiliúna Training crossed paths in the delivery of training for the Education Training Boards and according to Fitzpatrick, the physical training space will be intrinsic to serving this space. “We tested that demand before we purchased Oiliúna Training and we know for a fact there is a keen demand for it.”
Looking to the future Chevron College is in expansion mode.
Springboard to success
“We’re on target to train about 8,500 people this year and turnover around €15m. We have a team of around 150 employed. We see an opportunity for us to be able to double the size of the business in Ireland alone over the next three-to-five years. The reason for this is we see opportunities for acquisitions. We’re in talks at this moment in time with three other providers to acquire their businesses between now and the end of 2024. So we’re very much focused on the acquisition path through cash reserves.”
A key facet of Fitzpatrick’s ambition for Chevron has been securing funding to provide Springboard training in Ireland. “Job seekers can access these programmes – often level 8 and level 9 programmes for free and are worth up to €8,000. Multinationals we speak to cannot get over the Springboard initiative because if they were to put US staff on similar programmes the cost be anything up to $40,000. So Irish businesses can get their staff trained here in Ireland for anything between €300 and €700 per person. That’s a phenomenal initiative.”
Chevron has successfully received funding to provide a number of programmes, including a level 9 post-graduate diploma in cybersecurity as well as a level 9 programme in change management. “A lot of our focus on the higher education side will be driven by skills shortages in different sectors, especially high-growth and multinational sectors which will be developed in line with Government policy.”
Asked if Chevron will ever have its own campus, Fitzpatrick demurred. “Our investment is going to go into great content, now that the next phase of that is going to be in the area of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). That’s the emerging trend in terms of the future of content at higher education level. I also think we can look at how we can use tools like ChatGPT not as a threat but as an opportunity for the business itself.
“We’re currently investing in VR and AR studios as well as podcast studios. We see ourselves being an e-learning provider forevermore. We see a trend where students are foregoing the college campus trend but instead want to get straight to employment and actually complete a degree or a Master’s and earn while they learn.
“The opportunity we are focusing on is lifelong learning. In Ireland around 12.5% of people are actively involved in lifelong learning while in countries like Switzerland it is more than 30%. There is so much growth and opportunity for growth in this country and that’s what we’re focused on.”