Day in the life of a mechanical engineering lecturer

Stuart Steele

Stuart Steele joined Wakefield College last February after more than 30 years in the auto and related industrial sectors, and eight years as a consultant 

Why and how did you become a mechanical engineering lecturer?

I’m a tool maker by trade. After a five-year apprenticeship, I worked full-time for 26 years in the design office at the Rover Group (later taken over by BMW), focusing on pressed tools and then later also assembly tools, assembly lines and installing new facilities. I have spent almost 85% of my career in the auto industry. In 2003 I left BMW. I took a break from engineering and moved up to Harrogate, Yorkshire, as chief executive of a charitable organisation for six years. 

I then went back to basic contracting in pressed design work for eight years as an engineering consultant on short-term assignments. It meant I had to stay over during the week and commute back north at weekends – it was hard work but a good income. But the commuting got monotonous, there was more to life than money and it was then I got a taste for teaching. I built up transferable skills as I often worked with apprentices in clients’ central design offices. In my free time I was a volunteer coach for 18 months at a local learning centre to help 16-year olds with functional skills in and more mature students grappling with Microsoft software such as Word and Excel and other key apps. I really liked the role and started thinking about a career change. I then saw my current job advertised and have not looked back! 

What's helped you adapt from an industrial to a teaching environment?

I have had to keep in touch with what goes on in the younger generation; be good at adapting, being open-minded, and thinking fast on my feet, and being prepared to get thrown in at the deep end. I joined just as another lecturer left the college, who took his expertise with him, so I immediately had to cover for him and to find out all I could about his field to build up teaching material. I had to be prepared to do a lot of self-learning to cover all contingencies. Burning the midnight oil is often part of the job.

What’s your main role at the college?

Looking after the teaching of computer-aid design (CAD), manufacture and numerical control programming. I also cover mechanical principles, mechanical science, safety, communications and projects - I’m starting my first project tomorrow when I will be explaining the project, giving my students a brief and showing them how to write up the project. I also fill in for colleagues where necessary. I’ve managed £50m projects in industry so I have a lot of experience I can pass on.

What’s a typical day?

I usually get in at 8am and leave about 4pm - though I sometimes have a later start, depending on my timetable. I prepare my day’s lessons and ensure I have any bits of equipment I need. The most teaching per day I do is a maximum four 90-minutes lessons, though most days are not so busy. My longest days is 9.00 till 7.30 at night though you get a break in-between. I sometimes work at home at I have internet links to my workplace – and it’s a lot quieter to prepare lessons.

My actual teaching is 22 hours a week, of which 60% is IT-related and takes place in IT suites. I currently teach around 165 students a week in 13 classes and they are studying for a level 3 BTEC or a HNC (level 4). My biggest class size is 16, average 13, with 6 in my smallest class.

Two or three specific tasks you did last week?

I went through new CAD assignments, which require students to include at least seven component parts in an exploded assembly drawing. I also focused on the new  term’s schemes of work, generating assignments for each of my 13 classes.  

What’s your best moment so far?

It’s when something clicks with students, they have that lightbulb moment and can then move onto the next stage. 

Any achievement you are proud of? 

Playing a part in getting the students through their qualifications last summer. It’s great to get feedback from the students. 

What personal qualities and skills do you need for the job?

Always stay calm— things do happen as it can be a high-pressure job. You can’t overreact. You have got to plan your way through things, make sure your decisions are the right ones. Stay open-minded and give people the benefit of the doubt. You have to be courteous and respectful and hopefully you will be treated similarly. Treat your students how you’d like to be treated. You have to be flexible in teaching – if students don’t understand your first explanation of a topic, try another tack. Get to know your students and how they tick. If someone is turning up late for lessons, you have to try to find out why. It all helps in managing people – if you can’t do that, you will have a difficult time                                                    

Ditto background/training/qualifications?

If you have teaching qualification, it makes life much easier. I’m working towards a PGCE to gain full teaching status. I came into my job having done a 12-week course for an entry-level Education and Training  (PTLLS) level 3 teaching qualification, which introduces you to schemes of work, lesson preparation and data principles. I also have a BSc in manufacture technology management from Buckinghamshire University which I studied for part-time (sponsored by my then employer BMW), a City and Guilds (C&G) engineering master qualification – sadly not longer offered – and my original C&G toolmaking qualification. 

What spurs you on to work each day?

I get a lot of satisfaction from my role – you are there to teach the next generation of engineers and pass on your experience. If you don’t, it just gets lost!

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