Matthew McKeown is a part time lecturer at South West College, but he is also a past student of the college. In between times, he spent five years working in Australia, so if anyone is qualified to speak about how Vehicle Maintenance is taught in Further Education College’s, it’s him.
Matthew’s journey with South West College began shortly after he left school. He says, ‘when I left school I knew I wanted to be a mechanic and that in order to do that I’d have to find an apprenticeship. I started studying Light Motor Vehicle Repair at South West College and got a job in Pat Kirk’s in Omagh, where I did my six years as an apprentice, going through Levels 2, 3 and 4. The set-up worked very well for me, because South West College’s teaching incorporated all the relevant industry training needs and requirements, which meant that I could come directly to my workplace with all the up to date skills and knowledge I needed.’
As well as traditional education and training, Matthew also benefited from competition as a student by competing in Skill Build competitions, the impact of which he is perhaps only now coming to realise.
‘In 2012 I competed in the Regional Skills competitions, and then the Northern Ireland Skills finals, and having got through both of them I qualified for the UK finals, where I finished second. Looking back – because at the time I probably didn’t understand it that well – these competitions put a lot of pressure on a young person to compete, but it can also be the best thing that ever happens to them. It forces a student to reach new training requirements and it makes their educational experience a lot better overall.’
After his years studying at South West College, Matthew decide to travel, but his links with the college remained.
‘After the UK Skills I decided to go out to Australia and I stayed there for four years. In that time I worked for a dealership very similar to Pat Kirk’s at home, and also in that time became a MasterTech. It gave me a lot more experience and knowledge of the industry, and I learned that no matter where you are in the world the industry still requires the same things, with good mechanics, developed through great training, being paramount to that. South West College gave me a good base for that from day, and that really stood to me when I went over the water.’
‘When I was in Australia, Paul O’Loughlin, a lecturer at South West College had me do video talks from my workshop. Because our workshop specialised in a lot of expertise areas, everything from car tuning to selling brand new cars, things we wouldn’t really see in this country, I was able to do a live video chat through skype and show students the workshop and the tools we had, the cars. I could give a good outline of the experiences I was having in a very different part of the world.
‘I came back from Australia mainly because I missed my family, but when I got back, Paul O’Loughlin was very encouraging in saying that I should take on a part time lecturing role at South West College. He felt it would be good if i could pass on some more of my own experiences. At that time I wasn’t sure how valuable this would be to other people, but since I’ve been working at the college I’ve realised that what I learned in Australia all relates back to what students at South West College are striving to learn and improve on every day.’
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Motor vehicle work has always been an apprenticeship led industry, where experience and knowledge is handed down, so it’s no surprise that Matthew’s experiences, many of which are unique, are also incredibly valuable to anyone that can learn from them. But he’s also aware that as an educator he has to continue to keep up with the very latest motor vehicle developments.
‘Direct experience is a crucial part of teaching in our industry at the minute. Five years ago, cars weren’t even in the same ball park technology wise as what we’re dealing with today. So keeping up with industry requirements, taking that into the college, and impressing it directly onto the students, is the way things need to be.
‘There’s no point talking about cars that are ten years old, because new cars now, be they electric or hybrid, are so different, and they are what we need to be focusing our teaching on, because they are what the industry that the students are going to be moving into when they qualify are all about. Above all we need to be teaching them what’s relevant.
‘I really enjoy being able to show somebody something new and teaching a student something that’s valuable to them; being able to show somebody a new skill that they can actually use, not just something they find interesting, but something they can really put into practice. I do a lot of work in the industry, and when I can teach a young person something that’s actually relevant to that, that’s when I think we’re training them in the right way.’
The link between South West College and Pat Kirk’s in Omagh was a huge part of Matthew’s early apprentice development, and it’s a link that remains today. Matthew is adament that links like it are crucial in any apprentice’s journey.
‘Links are so important in this industry. When you have a good place like Pat Kirk’s, which is using all its resources to train a young person, that’s really brings them on. Once you bring all that together with our own teaching and the more academic side, you then get a student that will come out of their training with fantastic ability. That’s what we’ve always been fortunate enough to see.’