As someone whose mother initially wanted him to become a doctor or an electrical engineer, Christian Knowles is proof that the recipe to thrive is having a passion combined with the determination to pursue it.
“I’ve always been passionate about engines. I was sent to a local institution to study electrical engineering, but it was not by choice. Two years into it, I said, ‘This is not for me’,” said Christian.
Today, the 23-year-old 2013 graduate of Kingsway Academy is an Auto Mechanics student at the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) and owner of Auto Spa Service – a home-based auto workshop.
Christian pointed out that there is a level of stereotyping against technical and vocational education and training (TVET).
“My mom, Lisa Carey, had an interest that was zero. However, she realized how powerful it was when I didn’t have a job, yet people were coming to our house looking for me and I was still making money. She realized, ‘This is your drive and it keeps you afloat’,” said Christian.
Meanwhile, Christian highly recommends learning a trade. “I feel with a technical job, you can never be broke. A trade will always keep money in your pocket. If you are a welder, electrician, mechanic or an IT person, you can make it by using your skills,” he noted.
“The Bahamas runs off trades. Who will design the buildings? Who will construct the buildings? How does The Bahamas develop without trades?”
Although he gave another institution two years of his time, Christian was in his element when he became a student at BTVI in 2015, having achieved a 3.8 during his first semester.
“It was my decision. I paid for my first semester. It was something I wanted. I knew about engines before I came to BTVI, so the first few courses were like a breeze,” he remembered.
Christian, who considers himself to be competitive, said his success is not just for him, but his mother and grandmother, Idel Hanna as well.
“My mom always pushed me to excel and growing up in a single parent home, I never wanted to be a burden to her. She did the best for me; meantime, my grammy, who is 78, is my heart,” he said.
It was that same first semester when Christian met Dean of Construction and Workforce Development, Alexander Darville, who was impressed with him. Later in the semester, Mr. Darville was about to travel with a few instructors to visit several institutions and colleges in Florida, but not before giving the young Christian his word he would search out a scholarship opportunity for him.
A few weeks later, he received a response from the Marine Mechanics Institute (MMI) in Florida. He completed a form for a scholarship, leaving his mother to only cover room, board and other fees.
“At BTVI, they pinpointed me out. I found that amazing,” he added.
Christian, who attended MMI between 2016 and 2017, completed the 52-week diploma in Marine Mechanics in 42 weeks, as he began “doubling up on courses.” He became qualified to work on inboard and outboard marine engine brands including Honda, Mercury, Suzuki, Yamaha and Diesel. Christian also received the internationally recognized Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification.
Since returning to The Bahamas, Christian has struggled to find employment paying him a salary he believes is commensurate with his qualifications and experience.
“With all my certifications, a big time marine company offered me $250 per week. I realised it was crazy and declined. I started doing my own thing in auto mechanics. Things were going good. I was getting calls every day to fix vehicles,” he stated.
“When the marine didn’t work out, I worked on a car for a friend and she said, ‘You’re really good at this’. She sent a few people to me. I have a job every day. If you come and tell me you need me at 11 at night, your car isn’t starting, I’m coming. I go beyond.”
Christian is so organised, he has his clients on calendars in his cell phone, so every three months he sends them reminders to have their vehicles serviced.
“I went into marine because it was an opportunity, but auto was my passion from the beginning. I started with auto, did marine, but came right back to auto. I didn’t even go back to auto; auto came back to me,” he said smiling.