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Content Writer at TAFE NSW

They both demonstrate TAFE’s ongoing capacity for innovation and its ability to meet the demands and circumstances of the times

The other day I was chatting with an 88-year-old bloke who’d proudly spent his entire working life as a brickie. He’d studied his trade at TAFE (known as Sydney Technical College back then), in the years just prior to WWII. His teenaged great grandson is now following suit (kind of), studying TAFE’s Certificate III in Plumbing.

The octogenarian was quietly shaking his head and marvelling at this “new electronic gadget thingy” that helps students with their studying. His great grandson had been giving him a demo of its features. “We certainly didn’t have anything like this back in my day,” he said.

The “new electronic gadget thingy” was, of course, SkillsLocker, TAFE NSW’s recently-launched study app that allows students to submit assessments and communicate with their teachers via their smartphones.

And yes, he was right. There certainly was nothing like it back in his day. But that’s not to say no innovative ideas were coming out of Sydney Tech College when he was a teenaged tradie-in-training.

Of course, NSW in the Depression-hit 1930s was a very different time and place. Enrolments for tech education courses in rural areas were going through the roof. But there was the tyranny of geography to consider. How could the College meet this demand?

By going bush. Literally.

At a cost of £4,500 each, disused railway carriages were brought out of retirement, dusted down and converted into classrooms and workshops. These ‘Mobile Instructional Units’ were then sent to towns all across the state where eager young men would climb aboard for something many of them never dreamed they’d have – the opportunity to study a trade.

There’s lots of things I like about this little bit of TAFE history. But it’s the resourcefulness and innovation it demonstrates that really makes it shine.

The Mobile Instructional Units of the Depression era might seem to have nothing in common with 2013’s SkillsLocker. But they’re both great examples of innovative service delivery – of taking the training to the people and, in turn, contributing to economic growth within local communities. They both demonstrate TAFE’s ongoing capacity for innovation and its ability to meet the demands and circumstances of the times, whatever they may be.

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