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Rob comes full circle with TAFE Queensland teaching role

Rob Witham's training journey with TAFE Queensland started in 1989, 30 years later he is passing on a wealth of industry-proven skills.

After a 30-year career as an electrician working for companies large and small - including his own - Rob Witham has returned to where it all started, TAFE Queensland, as a teacher. When asked what made him want to become a TAFE Queensland teacher Rob was clear: he wanted to pass on the knowledge and skills he has gained as an expert in his chosen industry of more than three decades to the tradespeople of the future.

An Electrical teacher to TAFE Queensland’s visiting school students, Rob is carrying out the teaching which first drew him to a lifetime in the trades and finds it to be incredibly rewarding.

Rob's connection to TAFE Queensland dates back to 1989 when he was one of the first students to attend the newly opened TAFE Queensland Alexandra Hills campus. One of six senior colleges established across Queensland at the time to provide school-aged students with vocational training, TAFE Queensland Alexandra Hills is the only one of these still in use.

"When I finished grade 10,” Rob said, "I said to mum and Dad 'look I'm not really enjoying school, I wanna become a tradie. So that was where my journey with TAFE Queensland started."

Rob speaks fondly of the following two years, which he spent completing Certificate II pre-vocational courses in the automotive and electrical fields under the tutelage of teachers he has remained in contact with to this day.

"For many years after my time in training, whenever I had any dramas or questions my teachers helped me out no problems at all," Rob said, "my Alexandra Hills electrical teacher actually went on to write a few textbooks that we use in the electrical industry today."

After his time at Alexandra Hills, Rob could have gone on to a full-time apprenticeship in automotive or electrical, but it was his childhood passion for electrical work that won out in the end.

"My interest in electrical actually started with a Lego train set. In that Lego train set was a power supply, a little transformer. I used to rip toys apart and all that to try and get the motors out of them. I used to play with them and that was where my interest developed in electrical," he recalled.

This is what led Rob to his electrician apprenticeship training at TAFE Queensland's Yeronga campus. Through his apprenticeship and beyond Rob never looked back, spending 30 years working as an electrician and enjoying them all.

Eventually Rob decided it might be time to look at teaching as a new vocation when his body began to show the signs of a three decade career on the tools, and so he began to investigate how he could pass on the skills and knowledge he had gained.

Rob's original automotive teacher was still working with TAFE Queensland managing the Alexandra Hills campus when Rob began to consider teaching and was an integral part of preparing Rob for his new career.

“I went to see one of my original teachers up at Alexandra Hills and he started me on the process. He said look, it would be great to have you teaching at TAFE Queensland," Rob was then assisted through the process by his teacher from 30 years prior.

During his years in the electrical industry, Rob had taken on apprentices of his own and thoroughly enjoyed the teaching aspect of apprentice management and the bonds formed with budding tradespeople. It was the pride Rob took in watching the growth of his apprentices that spurred him on to begin teaching.

"You see them from the start, they show up and basically know nothing, and by the time they're finished with me I've turned them into good little tradies. I try to get them to think for themselves and yeah, I take pride in my apprentices," said Rob.

Whilst he has only been teaching with TAFE Queensland for less than two years, Rob is convinced he has found his second calling and is looking forward to many years of forming skilled tradespeople in his chosen trade.

“I'm loving it, it’s probably one the best things I've done in my life,” Rob particularly enjoys helping a student work through problems they didn’t think they could solve. “You sit down and say, alright, these are the steps we go through and you give them a couple of goes and they say ‘Rob I can do this, I can do this!’ That little light bulb moment gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside, you know.”

TAFE Queensland is able to maintain the quality training that has made it the state’s most trusted training organisation across its 140 year history thanks to teachers like Rob who are brimming with industry skills and knowledge and have a passion for sharing them with the next generation of tradespeople.

TAFE Queensland Alexandra Hills Campus TAFE Queensland's Alexandra Hills Campus is still in use today