Like many kids who grew up living on the land, Neil spent much of his early life surrounded by impressive machinery and tinkering with equipment vital to the success of his family’s farm.
Driven by his fascination for engines and the evolving technology behind them, Neil left high school to pursue an apprenticeship at an international truck and tractor centre in Wollongong. There he began his career focussing on heavy vehicles and mobile plant technology.
“All the new technologies that are part of modern vehicles are challenging to keep up with, but that’s what I love about working in automotive — I find it keeps it interesting,” Neil said.
In the decade following the completion of his apprenticeship Neil diversified his role and his qualifications working as an operator in power stations and gaining his certificates to operate boilers and steam turbines. However his love for engines and their complexity drew him back into the automotive trade and after moving to Bundaberg in 1990 Neil spent the next 14 years working on light vehicles at the RACQ Automotive Service Centre.
It was during this time that Neil came across a job advert looking for multi-skilled workers to fill trade positions in Antarctica. Realising the unique opportunity that was being presented, he set out to make himself as appealing an employee as possible. Over the next three years Neil undertook further training at TAFE Queensland’s Bundaberg campus in engineering, welding, information technology, occupational first aid and communication systems.
“It was an opportunity I just couldn’t refuse,” Neil said.
“Thousands of people apply for just nine mechanical positions each season so I realised in order to land a role I needed to to upskill.
“It worked too — after applying each season for three years, I finally landed a plant inspector position with the Australian Antarctica Division.”
Neil spent 12 months over 2004 and 2005 posted at Mawson Station, a scientific research base located in Eastern Antarctica. There he led the automotive team in servicing and maintaining equipment — from ice drills and ice chainsaws to other specialised machinery like dozers and excavators. His team was also responsible for maintaining engine-powered generator sets in the power stations and transferring fuel from depots.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said.
“You spend most of your time on the boat, but we did get to go out on the ice and see some of the incredible things that part of the world has to offer — like the aurora australis.
“The wildlife there is something extraordinary as well; you never tire of it. From the snow petrels in the mountain ranges behind Mawson to the thousands of emperor penguins at Auster Rookery and all of the other wildlife like the adelie penguins, leopard seals and sea lions — it is something that the lucky few who get to experience it keep with them forever. It’s hard to beat.”
Neil returned to Australia in 2005, working with RACQ for a further three years before making the journey back to Antarctica once more in 2008. This time he spent 12 months based at the Davis Station, the Australian Antarctica Division’s southernmost outpost.
“It was rather cold down there and the daylight hours got confusing. In winter the most you would get was a glow on the horizon in the middle of the day, whereas the summer it was the complete opposite because the sun never set. I’d be sitting up reading or doing something and not check the time for a bit, and the next time I’d look at the clock it was 2am. It made it hard to keep track of the time.”
Upon his return to Australia at the end of 2009 Neil came across an advertisement for an automotive trade teacher at TAFE Queensland’s Bundaberg campus. Having already obtained his Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, along with a stack of other qualifications he’d obtained from that very campus while he was upskilling to achieve his dream, he decided to apply.
“I loved the experience I’d had in Antarctica but I’d already seen everything I’d wanted to see, so I wanted to find a role back home in Bundaberg,” Neil said.
“I’ve spent 25 years in the automotive industry, so I felt it was time to pass on my skills and knowledge to the next generation.
“Having gained many of my qualifications there myself, I knew the training TAFE Queensland offered was second-to-none and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Though Neil has now been training Bundaberg’s automotive workers for eight years, his passion for the industry remains just as strong as it was when he was a young, bright-eyed apprentice himself. And whether he’s inspiring school students to pursue an apprenticeship, or helping international students get qualified so they can gain sponsored citizenship, the results of his work are nothing short of rewarding.
“Seeing students reach their goals of gaining their trade qualification, and ultimately employment, is an incredible feeling,” Neil said.
“I work with such a great team and I’m so grateful that I can now use my expertise to help others kick start their careers.”
Neil Cook is just one of the many amazing, industry-experienced teachers providing quality, hands-on training at TAFE Queensland.
Learn from the experts and make the most of the quality training offered by Queensland largest, most experienced training provider by calling 1300 308 233 and enrolling today.