Hittin' the road - Episode 14: Miller

Walking through the carved sandstone proscenium into these stylish and elegant surrounds is like stepping back in time

It's baaaaack. After a couple of months break, the great TAFE NSW Road Trip continues. This time it's the South Western Sydney Institute (SWSi) area that's marked out on the map. And this time I won't be travelling alone. I'm bringing along my two social media colleagues, Ruth and Gary, to keep me company and to assist with finding the best pit stops for coffee.

SWSi is made up of 10 colleges and eight specialist training centres, covering an extremely culturally diverse chunk of the Sydney metro area. And with students hailing from a staggering 184 different countries (count ‘em), that diversity is certainly reflected in the Institute's student body.

Our first visit was to Miller College. This leafy campus is surprisingly quiet given its location on busy Hoxton Park Road. Its course list is extensive; Plumbing, Engineering and Electrical, Business Administration, Information Technology, Vocational Access and Outreach, and many others. Its signature area, however, is Building and Construction. Testament to this is a section of the Building and Construction Faculty, which has been beautifully restored by talented Federation & Restoration students. The timber panelling, stained glass windows and painted ceiling rosettas evoke a nostalgic 1930s art deco feel. Walking through the carved sandstone proscenium into these stylish and elegant surrounds is like stepping back in time.


We had a good yarn with teacher, John Wade. John has been teaching for seven years and is very passionate about what he does. He let us join a Cert IV Building Studies class. The students, only a few weeks into their course, ranged in age from 18 to mid-40s. And notably, they were all male. This reflects the building industry itself, which is still mostly male-dominated, although there's a concerted push by both TAFE and the state government to encourage more women into the industry.

"The women who are already in the construction industry tend to be in management and supervisory roles, as they're generally very good organisers," John told us.

He also talked about ‘Women on the Go' a new initiative aimed primarily at younger women. The program is designed to broaden their basic household maintenance skills with things like changing washers.

We also met Anthony, a Cert IV Building and Construction graduate who's now studying for his Diploma in Construction. Even with a family background in the building industry, Anthony told us that he was "pretty scared" when he first started his studies, but he ended up really enjoying the experience. "I love the practical aspect of the courses here," he said. "You actually learn the things that you really do need to know, so you're applying your knowledge when you're on the job."

The Cert IV in Building and Construction is now an industry licensing requirement and the starting point for the education process in the building industry. Traditionally you had to have a trade background, but now the Cert IV students have no prerequisite for the course.

John Quine, Head Teacher of Building and Construction, gave us a guided tour of the College's huge customized training facility.  Mini ‘house' frames and ceiling trusses are arranged in rows throughout the large concrete-floored space, giving the students the opportunity to practise necessary skills like the installation of windows. This warehouse-sized facility is the shining jewel in Miller College's crown, and John was unable to disguise his pride in it as he showed us around. The space is a prime example of how TAFE facilities are designed to simulate real work situations and environments, giving students the opportunity to apply their skills in a practical way.

On our way back to the car, we stopped to admire a handmade garden bench that was displayed in the foyer. "A group of my students made that," John told us proudly. "They were mostly from fairly disadvantaged circumstances. But over the weeks as their skills and knowledge grew, I could see the transformation it made to their confidence levels. Now they feel the world is just brimming with possibility."

Another win for Miller. And for TAFE.