FE Heroes: 'No two days are the same'

Apprenticeship tutor Dave Murphy – this week's FE Hero – shares his journey into FE and his concerns for the future

Tes Reporter

FE Hero: Apprenticeship tutor David Murphy tells us why he enjoys working in FE

What is your name, job title and place of work?

My name is Dave Murphy, and I am an apprenticeship tutor at Salutem Training in Birmingham

How long have you held your current role, and what other jobs did you have before?

I have been at Salutem for two and a half years and held previous roles in teaching at City College, Coventry and Heart of Worcestershire College.

I started my career as a bricklaying apprentice working in incinerators across the Midlands before moving into site work. My last position before moving into education was as a bricklayer at Birmingham City Council, also carrying out project management duties. This work involved managing contracts across the city on refurbishment programmes. That gave me a good insight into leading teams and dealing with a variety of personalities.

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How – and why – did you first start working in further education?

In 2005, my sister was working for a local college and I thought teachers had an easy life with all the holidays. I told her it must be easy and that anyone could do it. She replied, “If anyone can do it, you should try,” and a week later she called my bluff and turned up with an application for a bricklaying tutor role in Redditch. After three years of evening classes, I completed my Cert Ed and had to eat my words as I realised that there is so much more involved in getting a learner from A to B, dealing with all the requirements and managing the different personalities.

What motivates you in your workplace?

I am motivated by working with different learners, watching them grow both as people and also in confidence.

Do you enjoy working in FE? And if so, why?

I enjoy working in a team where we are all driven by the same goal – to support young people (who may have run out of options) to start or develop a career in construction. I also learn a lot from my students.

Share an anecdote about a student or learner who has inspired you

I had one learner who started a course with me who listened well to all my instructions and worked really well. However, their timekeeping was dreadful I asked them to explain why that was. That is when they explained that before coming to college, they had to wash, dress and feed their father as they were his carer. This took me completely by surprise: how could a 16-year-old have all this responsibility and still have the motivation to want to come to college? We agreed that if they were running late in future, I would catch up with them when they arrived. I also contacted student services to try and get some help, which happily they were able to provide. Later, reflecting on the conversation, I tried to imagine how I would cope in the same situation, and this was a huge learning curve for me. Some learners we teach carry a great deal of responsibility for such a young age and I have nothing but admiration for them. 

Describe what a day at work looks like for you

Working in a small team, no two days are the same – I have many hats to wear: teaching apprentices, carrying out meetings, preparation and ensuring all internal quality is in place. Those are just some of the duties that keep me occupied. Then we have the characters that come on our courses, always keeping you laughing with their stories of what they got up to on a weekend. In what other job could you have such a diverse range to deal with?

What do you see as the big challenges for the FE sector in the next few years?

Speaking for my own trade, trying to get professional people to pass on their expertise to our future learners is becoming a real issue for the future, and we need to plan as the construction workforce are, in the majority, aged 50-plus. Who is going to teach the learners? We have many experienced trades who would not consider teaching due to the amount of administration required. Additionally, the salary is significantly lower than what can be earned in the outside world. If FE is to move forward and keep current, this needs to be addressed.

What do you think our FE sector will look like in 30 years’ time?

I can see many courses moving to online remote learning. This and the continued developments in augmented reality lend themselves to many industries. For example, manufacturing and healthcare, where learning will be able to take place anywhere, which will enable courses to be delivered to a worldwide audience.

If you were made apprenticeships and skills minister, what is the first thing you’d introduce or change?

If I were made apprenticeships and skills minister, the first thing I would address is why so many are leaving teaching and find out what the main concerns are so we could look to reverse this trend. We need experienced people to help our future generation and we would need to start from their concerns to put in place a plan that addresses this. When rebuilding, you must have strong foundations. I would also look at why FE does not have the same appeal to some as HE. There is a perception that learners coming out of FE do not carry the qualities required for some employers, which seems to be ingrained in our society.

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