Our interviewer called Cristina Irimie “indefatigable” and “a nuclear-powered entity.” But it is something else entirely that drives Cristina forward, as our interview revealed.
Twenty years ago, Cristina was a rising star. She had overcome obstacles through pure determination, and achieved an offer to study at Oxford University. But the obstacles kept coming as circumstances conspired to block her every step.
Diversity and Diversification
Determined that others should not suffer the setbacks that she encountered, she has built a diverse business empire with the common aim of offering pathways to success to Eastern and Central Europeans in the UK.
Among her other concerns, today Cristina runs:
- Romani in UK Media Group, publishing Romȃni ȋn UK Newsletter, with over 50,000 subscribers
- Happy People Learning Centre, which specializes in providing health and safety training courses for Eastern European Construction tradesmen in the UK, the only centre in the UK approved to deliver the GQA CSCS Labourer Card 100% online.
- HPL Recruitment, which places Eastern European people into construction work in the UK
- A business delivering translations, advice and accountancy services for Romanians living in the UK
Cristina also owns a restaurant in her home county in Romania.
Currently on hold is her business in permanent medical recruitment of doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants from Romania for the UK and France.
She has been an active campaigner at the highest levels for the rights of Romanians and other EU migrants in the UK – and this is the clue to every business she runs.
She goes beyond the staying power of a Duracell-powered bunny: she is a nuclear-powered entity! But this indefatigability is not driven primarily by desire for wealth, more by a passion to change the world for the better for others.
Cristina has faced more than her fair share of barriers. But each one has shaped her path. She arrived in the UK in 1999, long before Romania joined the EU, at the age of 16 on a scholarship, one of 3,000 applicants for seven places.
However, she found that her education was far behind her classmates’ at the English school she was joining, so she had a lot of catching up to do, in her second language. She worked hard, battling prejudice and ignorance of her home country all the while. Two years later she was accepted by Oxford University but she was unable to secure further sponsorship, so took employment via an agency as a hotel housekeeper. She was quickly promoted to supervisor because of her language skills.
She saw injustices in how the agencies treated Romanian employees at the same time that her visa restricted her employment options in the UK. So, she started her own employment agency with a friend, dedicated to delivering a fair deal to the workers. She went on to set up a translation agency for Romanians before establishing the training and employment agencies aimed at offering opportunities in the construction trade to Central and Eastern Europeans. Happy People Learning Centre and HPL Recruitment now operate across Britain.
At the same time as she established her first employment agency, her campaigning career began. Determined to raise the profile of working-class Romanians in Britain, she spoke out and kept speaking, until she was featured on UK national media and invited to address the UK and European parliaments.
Then, last year, coronavirus struck the world. While construction sites remained open, it became increasingly difficult to train and recruit people for the posts so desperately needed to keep the UK construction industry moving.
Knowledge and Learning
This was the impetus Cristina needed. Once again, a setback became the stimulus for innovation and success. She had been developing a 100% online version of the training programmes to qualify people for the crucial certificates needed before working on a construction site in the UK. She doubled down and devoted her energy to refining the software. The pandemic equally focused the attention of the construction industry qualification awarding body, which realised that online learning and qualification was going to be the only way to keep construction going through the crisis.
Together, Cristina and the awarding authority worked to produce a solution and now Happy Learning Centre is the only centre in the UK approved to deliver the GQA CSCS Labourer Card 100% online.
Disruptive innovations shake up the market and Cristina has encountered some pushback as one or two established training providers find themselves on the back foot. Cristina did what she always does: she pushes on. The course and the examination must be conducted entirely in English, so she refined and tested, refined and tested until she ensured that the training system is suitable for use by people with English as a second language. Assisted by use of video and other techniques, the concepts are explained clearly so candidates can easily understand them. As a result, Romanians continue to be the most common non-British nationality on UK building sites and Happy People Learning Centre has one of the highest pass rate for construction site certification in the UK.
Cristina reveals that after a lifetime of campaigning, she has taken a back seat for the last couple of years, now that others have taken up the mantle. But she is still involved. Her businesses offer concrete assistance to Romanians and other EU workers in the UK at exactly the points where it is needed. That is the leadership the campaigners need.
Cristina is not the nuclear-powered entity our interviewer called her – she is fired by passion and compassion and it is a potent fuel.