My Journey to a Teaching Career

Life as a professional Outdoor Power Equipment instructor is both rewarding and inspiring, writes JOHN O’SHEA from TAFE Queensland SkillsTech.

I was born in the southwest Queensland town of Warwick in the very early 1960s. I finished school in 1975 and, after much door knocking, was offered an automotive mechanical apprenticeship at a local workshop. Mum and dad had always said, “Get a trade behind you and you will always have a job.”
It was during my apprenticeship that I gained a passion for learning, something that seemed to mysteriously evade me throughout my years at school. The best part of my job was actually when I was away from my workplace participating in my TAFE training in nearby Toowoomba, or the ‘Big Smoke’ (Brisbane).

Notably, my First Year group was one of the first automotive apprentice groups in Queensland to be sent to TAFE. We studied in seven-week training ‘blocks’ during each of the first three years of our apprenticeship. I thoroughly enjoyed my training experience, particularly the camaraderie with my fellow students. I was also astounded at the incredible knowledge and dedication of my trade teachers.

Unfortunately, back in my workplace I was treated as ‘cheap labour’, most often assigned the mundane tasks that the ‘tradies’ didn’t want to do. I can distinctly remember thinking that when I became a tradesperson myself I would make sure to train my apprentices the right way, as demonstrated to me by my trade teachers during my time at TAFE. After completing my apprenticeship, now thoroughly disillusioned with the automotive repair trade, I wasted no time in moving on. At this time part of me worried that aside from the time at TAFE, I may have gained nothing from those four
years. However, after working for the local Repco Branch for a year or so I was offered a job as a Small Engine Mechanic at a local Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) dealership (Warwick Mower Centre). Although it was a very steep learning curve at first, I began to thrive in my new working environment. My new employer understood the value of good training and so he was more than happy to teach me everything he could about the OPE trade. I’d found my niche.

By the early 1980s I was ready for bigger things and it was time to pack up and move to the ‘Big Smoke’ where I secured a job with a prominent north-side OPE dealership (Brisbane Mower Centre). The owner Greg Claydon was an incredible boss and a consummate professional. He was well ahead of his time in all things OPE. The store was an eye-opener for me. Greg’s attention to customer service, product merchandising and use of new technologies had a profound effect on me. This was what I had imagined a mower shop could look and feel like. I’m quite sure that Greg was one of the first dealers in the OPE industry to set up and utilise many of the things that are commonplace today, including computer-based stock control, spare parts and customer management.

Greg was also the National Chairman of the Mower Specialists Association of Australia (MSAA), which was the peak industry body at that time. He was very progressive when it came to staff training and would always send his mechanics to any training offered by his OPE suppliers. He understood the value of having well-trained employees who were up-to-date with the latest products they serviced and repaired.
I have very fond memories of being trained by industry legends, including the late great John Carrow (ANI Perkins-Briggs & Stratton), Max Mouzon (STIHL Australia), Reg Boucher (MTD) and Ron Harper (Homelite). These trainers demonstrated to me just how effective a well-trained, knowledgeable professional could be, provided he had a good connection with his staff.

After gaining my OPE Trade Certificate and armed with two trade qualifications, I decided to apply for a teaching position with TAFE Queensland in the mid-1980s. I was accepted into the TAFE Queensland beginning teacher program and graduated from Griffith University with my formal teaching qualification in September 1990.

I have since worked as an OPE trade teacher for the majority of the past 25 years, punctuated by a couple of stints working back in the industry. These periods have refreshed me and kept me up-to-date with the fast-moving development of our industry.

Interaction with my students is by far the best part of my job. I don’t subscribe to the notion that many of today’s youth are too lazy to learn. I believe that in most cases all they need is to be shown how. The youth of today need to be encouraged to back their own judgment, they need to have confidence in their own abilities. I firmly believe that, if treated in the right way, the majority of our students respond positively and are keen to learn. Our apprentice groups currently include a diverse mix of students, including an increasing number of mature age students and a larger representation of female apprentices. I believe that these changes will be important to the future of our industry.

In conclusion, working in the OPE industry today offers an apprentice a chance to work on a great variety of very different equipment. Our apprentices are given opportunities to learn and practice a great variety of skills that will not only help them in their current career, but, just as importantly, prepare them for the ever-changing challenges of the future.

John O’Shea is Leading Vocational Teacher in Auto Outdoor Power Equipment at TAFE Queensland SkillsTech, Bracken Ridge Training Centre.
TAFE Queensland SkillsTech