But when he made the switch from coalface to chalkface, at Birstall primary school in Kirklees, eight years ago, Tom brought his sense of camaraderie and hard graft with him.
As the school's caretaker and cleaner in charge, senior lunchtime supervisor and teaching assistant, he is the first to arrive, at 6.30am, and usually the last to leave at around 5pm every day.
"He's a real hard worker," says the school's headteacher, Erica Hayton, who nominated Tom for our flowers, chocolate and champagne. "He doesn't hang around; if there's a job to be done he'll do it. He can never do enough for you."
As well as looking after the school buildings and keeping an eye on its 150 pupils at lunchtimes, Tom helps out with the joint Year 1 and 2 class in the mornings and Year 6 in the afternoons.
Being the only man can have its disadvantages ("sometimes he has to leave the staffroom when the talk gets a bit gynaecological," says Ms Hayton) but he is happy with his lot and, at his recent performance management meeting, he told her he wanted nothing more than to carry on doing what he was doing.
Tom is 50 on Monday and "it would be a lovely, well deserved surprise for him if he was to be the Friday Hero", says Ms Hayton.
"He's a real people person - very open with everybody," she says. "He is a natural with the children and a great colleague. We would be lost without him because he contributes so much to the school and he is willing to join in whatever is going on. The kids adore him and I can't envisage the school without him."
Is there an unsung hero in your school? Tell Sarah Bayliss, TESFriday editor, about him or her at the address opposite. Flowers kindly supplied by Marks Spencer