Behind every great idea, there is a great muse. In the case of Matt Hodgson, founder of Life Skills Queensland, it was his mother’s desire to learn practical life skills and meet new people in the community that inspired the creation of his business.
“I am an electrician by trade, and I usually go around to Mum’s place to help her hang pictures, fix taps and assist her with all those ‘handyman’ type projects,” says Matt.
“One day, I was talking to her about getting more involved with social events, and when I asked her what types of activities she would be interested in, she mentioned she would like to learn skills such as fixing taps and hanging paintings, so she wouldn’t have to rely on me as much.”
After researching potential prospects, Matt realised there was a gap in the market for a service catered towards teaching basic and practical life skills that would be of benefit for years to come.
“The only things we could find were Certificates, or Bunnings courses where you learn more complex skills like laying floor tiles,” he continues.
“There was nothing around where she could go and meet some other ladies her age and learn these skills. That was when my wife, Brittany, and I decided we would open a workshop that would cater to these types of activities.”
The couple founded Life Skills Queensland in 2016 with the intention of educating, encouraging and empowering people to learn practical life skills. Four years on, the business has become more successful than Matt and Brittany could have predicted, and they currently run a variety of workshops that cater to a diverse demographic.
“The aim of our business is to empower people in the art of life skills, that may not necessarily have the opportunity to learn these basic skills,” explains Matt.
“These include using hand and power tools, workshop machinery, maintaining vehicles, pushbikes, home maintenance and fun projects such as resin boards.
“We run workshops for both adults and kids and are active in the disability industry which we are planning to expand on.
“We run seven workshops in five days after school for kids, and we get a new group every three weeks.”
While the workshops are designed to teach participants practical core skills, they also establish an environment that breathes life into curiosity, promotes the value of teamwork, and enables the growth of confidence when participants complete their designated projects.
“The great thing is that the kids especially, are developing teamwork skills through group activities,” says Matt.
“We also don’t normally offer a drop and go service for the kids, so the parents have the opportunity to participate together with their children on the activities.
“They don’t even realise they are bonding and building relationships and teamwork skills.
“It’s the best feeling to see someone walk in who initially is not at ease with the situation, but by the end of the workshop their confidence has grown immensely, and they are working out when they are coming back to build another project.”
Over the last four years, Matt and Brittany have run the workshops as a passion project in addition to their careers. However, due to the increase in popularity, the couple have now found themselves pursuing Life Skills on a full time basis.
“We would run the workshops whenever we had spare time, and while we realised that they were getting quite popular, it was hard to commit to it when on a 6/8 roster,” Matt explains.
“In January of this year, I left my middle management job in mining to pursue Life Skills with Brittany.
“We got to the point where towards last year we realised we either needed to bite the bullet and shut Life Skills down or quit our jobs and go into it full time.”
In addition to them both working full time on the business, in May, the couple hired their first staff member. They are now planning on growing this number in the coming weeks to keep up with demand.
“We now have a waiting list, and we have four birthday parties already booked for the month of September,” continues Matt.
“I wasn’t planning on putting anyone else on for at least six months, and now we are planning on putting another person on in the next couple of weeks.
“We have such a high demand at the moment, and so far, we haven’t done any paid advertising at all.”
This increase in popularity has meant they have been invited to visit schools and community centres across Townsville, which has helped fast-track the couple’s goal of getting tools into kids’ hands before high school. However, despite their increase in popularity, the process has not been easy, and Matt makes note of the personal sacrifices they have made to get Life Skills to its current point.
“Something we are trying to work on is that work and life balance, especially now that we have an 8-month old,” explains Matt.
“We have been working these crazy hours since transitioning full time, and we had our first ever Sunday off just the other week.”
“As a start-up, there is not much balance, so we have been trying to work on that and take a commitment to having Sundays off, which will continue to come with time as we grow and add to our team.”
In addition to their workshops, Life Skills also offer project kits that range from birdhouses to timber clocks, which are available for purchase across Australia. They have seen a dramatic increase in the sales of their kits over the COVID-19 period.
“We are selling our kits all over Australia,” explains Matt.
“Especially with COVID-19, because the kits are affordable and a project that the whole family can work on together and keep occupied whilst at home.”
As the workshop is located in West End, the couple often receive bookings from people mistaking it for the Brisbane area. However, this unexpected delight has helped them plan for the business’s future growth.
“Since there is a suburb in Brisbane called West End, we get people booking in from Brisbane probably once every fortnight,” Matt says.
“This has really shown us that there is interest elsewhere in Australia which has been a great tester when it comes to planning the future so going forward, for us the big goal is to franchise the organisation up and down the East Coast of Australia.”
“However, at the moment we want to work on empowering the disability sector, continuing our focus on schools and ensuring we can get Charters Towers and the Burdekin access to our program.”
“We have lots in the pipeline and we are very excited to see where Life Skills Queensland will go.”
Georgie Desailly for BDmag.