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‘I love to do the hands-on teaching’

Last update - Thursday, July 17, 2008, 00:00 By Metro Éireann

In the latest instalment of Metro Éireann’s MEET THE BOSS, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Felicia Omari Ochelle Olima, founder of Citas College in Dublin’s city centre...

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is the ability to change the direction of people’s lives and to make a real difference. Felicia Omari Ochelle Olima founded Citas College, on Dublin’s Middle Abbey Street, for precisely this reason.

It was an Irish school principal at the Holy Rosary convent school in Gboko, in Nigeria’s Benue State, who recommended Olima come to Dublin to further her studies back in the 1970s. “I studied for my degree in marketing at the College of Marketing and Design when it was on Parnell Square, and then completed my Bachelor of Science and MA at Trinity College,” she explains.

Work experience with Guinness at St James’s Gate turned into a permanent post, and eventually her professional membership of the Marketing Institute of Ireland. “It was a great company to work for then,” says Olima of the brewery. “I still use some of those experiences in running my business now, including flexible working time for my staff.”

Olima’s husband was at the National University of Ireland in Galway at this time, studying medicine, and the couple also had four children, “which was tough, there was a lot of running around between nursery and schools. I could only attend to my own studies when they were all fed, homework done and gone to bed.”

Olima transferred her skills back to Nigeria for a time and worked with the Benue Brewery. She returned to Ireland with a new outlook and embarked on further study in computers and information technology. “When I started looking for work it was hard,” she recalls. “I sent out 300 applications, but to my dismay I did not get anything. At the time in the 1980s I was probably one of the first black women on the jobs market and that was certainly a factor in not getting work. I started working for free for some companies just to get experience.” Olima was training people in computing for free at a Fás community project when she was advised to start charging for her service – it was then she knew that she could run her own business.

The Dublin Business Innovation Centre assisted her by renting her desk space, and with two computers on loan, she began trading in January 1996. The centre also put her on a business start-up training programme. After one year, Olina moved on to premises at Middle Abbey Street, where she has traded since as Citas College. The college offers IT training to various levels and accreditations, including the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), Microsoft Office Specialist, City and Guilds, and the Further Education and Training Awards Council (Fetac). Courses run throughout the year, with no term-time as such, though summer is a popular time “as the universities are closed and we get many students during this time, it makes good business sense.” Citas College is now on four floors and employs 12 trainers, English teachers and five administrative staff.

The college attracts its students by word of mouth and through the internet. Many courses are aimed at mature students returning to work and international students. “I love to see the change in a person when they learn some new skill,” says Olima. “It is very rewarding to know that their life will change because of this new skill. “I love to do the hands-on teaching,” she adds, “but there is so much more paperwork to attend to for the international students that I get to do less teaching.

The industry is well regulated, and rightly so, but when it comes to dealing with the different sections within Government departments, I need two full-time staff just to handle non-academic paperwork – things like attendance records, travel permissions and time sheets for each student.” Olima says that if she retires tomorrow, it will be because of the paperwork for immigration purposes. “It is too much,” she sighs. “There must be another way to make the process more streamlined.”

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