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Carl's "nuts and bolts" career

For more than 30 years, Carl Balke has shared his passion for air conditioning and refrigeration with apprentices at TAFE Queensland.

When Carl Balke was first described as a “nuts and bolts teacher” he was none too pleased, but now more than 30 years on, he knows that’s probably one of the highest compliments he could have received.

Carl joined TAFE Queensland in 1989 as an air conditioning and refrigeration teacher at the former Yeronga campus, and although more than three decades have since passed, his passion for the industry and his students is just as strong as it ever was.

“When I first started at TAFE, computers were just being introduced and I had to take a course to learn to use them. We used to have to write class notes on overhead film and show them with a projector and put in a request to have them photocopied. Resources were really tight - we also used to draw our own graph paper,” Carl said.

The Vocational Team Lead is now based at the Acacia Ridge campus, and over the years has been so enthusiastic about everything TAFE Queensland that his three sons completed their trade training alongside him, and his wife, daughter and daughter-in-law joined him as colleagues.

“I think I’ve been very fortunate, some might say blessed, but I have also not taken it for granted. I have appreciated it and done the right thing by my students and industry,” he said.

“TAFE Queensland offers so much diversity and so many opportunities.”

For almost as long as he has been teaching, Carl has been involved in WorldSkills competitions, all the way through from regional competitions to being an International Expert (judge).

“I believe in WorldSkills. It is the Olympics of skills. We need to invest in our young people and give them the recognition and see what they can do. If they have the guts to take it on and be judged in their industry, they can handle anything,” he said.

“Taking them on and encouraging them to take up the next challenge, to build that self-confidence and belief in themselves – that’s taking the joy of teaching to a whole new level.”

While there have been many challenges along the way, Carl says by far the steepest learning curve was accepting how much influence he had on his students’ lives.

“From a teaching point of view, I started out relatively young and I always felt hesitant teaching people older than me, but eventually I realised they’d come to learn and I had the knowledge they wanted. At the end of the lesson I would always ask ‘have I taught you something?’ and if I’d passed on a bit of knowledge I knew that I had fulfilled my role,” he said.

“I could be walking down the street and see a student who wanted to buy me a beer as thanks. I would think ‘are you for real?’ and then I realised that attending TAFE can be life-changing for some students.”

“I am now teaching apprentices whose fathers I taught. They say ‘my Dad says hello’. It is really fulfilling to be part of that cycle.’

Carl is well known at both TAFE Queensland and in industry for his no-nonsense manor, but says that if he comes across a bit gruff it is because he is standing up for his students and fighting tooth and nail for them to have the best training and outcomes.

“When a student has a thirst for knowledge, we love to pass it on – and we’ll leave no stone unturned to help them,” he said.

“But I also respect a student’s right to fail.”

While there have been many changes to vocational education and training (VET) and the air-conditioning and refrigeration industry along the way, Carl is proud to have been part of the journey and honoured to have the privilege of sharing his knowledge.

“When I first came to TAFE I was described as a ‘nuts and bolts teacher’ and at first I took offense to that but as I look back I realise that I am. Nuts and bolts means being bloody good at the basics, and in any industry it is the basics that are the most important for everyone to learn,” he said.

TAFE Queensland is proud to be the largest and most experienced vocational education and training provider in the state, with highly skilled teachers who are providing the training that Queenslanders need and equipping students, communities and industry partners with the skills required for the jobs of the future.

With 140 years' of quality training experience, you can trust TAFE Queensland to continue to support Queensland people, industries, employers and communities long into the future.