Educating Myself and Others
My post-secondary school education started while I was on HMS Intrepid. The military is very helpful in enabling a person to gain educational qualifications. Although I attended a couple of classes, I didn’t get any formal qualifications. But they did, however, give me something to do, and kindled my interest in knowledge and education.
When I originally started my construction business, I needed to know how things were done properly, so I would read up on the type of work that I needed to do and then put the knowledge that I had acquired into practice. That served me well, as I had had experience in most of the various trades through my work with Stuart Edinburgh, plus I had some time in an electrical apprenticeship before I joined the Marines. The only skill that I didn’t know about was plumbing, so when I saw an advert for a government training scheme for plumbers, I decided I would apply.
The application for the plumbing qualification required an interview and an aptitude test, which I completed successfully. Once accepted onto the course, I attended Lincoln College of Technology to qualify as a plumber. I also obtained a City & Guilds Craft Certificate in plumbing, which was my first formal qualification. I was surprised at how easy I found it. I had expected it to be difficult, but the instructors led us through the process a step at a time, a training method that I remembered when I got into education myself in later life.
As I found the Craft Certificate so easy, I decided I would go back and do the Advanced Certificate the following year. From then on, I had been bitten by the education bug and continued my studies, returning for subsequent years to do National and Higher National Certificates in Building and then numerous related qualifications before applying to do a full-time Bachelor’s degree at Trent Polytechnic in 1985.
I was able to get a grant to do my degree and, because of the other qualifications that I had earned, I was allowed entry directly to the second year. I was 38 years old, the oldest student on the course - but that didn’t bother me. I did find a couple of the subjects to be difficult because of what I had missed in the first year, such as ‘Structural Analysis and Statistics’, but one of the other students helped me through it. In turn, I was able to help him with a couple of the areas where he struggled, so it worked out perfectly for both of us.
The third year of the degree was designed to be a year of hands-on work experience in industry, but since I had been working in industry for years, I was given an exemption and was able to go directly into the fourth and final year.
During the final year of my degree, I talked to the deputy head of the department about part-time lecturing at the college. He was interested, as I was still running my construction business and the department liked having people in industry, so he said that, once I had completed my degree, we could talk about it. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in June 1987 and started as a visiting lecturer in October of the same year.
My graduation photograph 1987
Lecturing at the Polytechnic was not my first experience of teaching. My introduction came in the early 1980s through an old school friend who taught guitar at Lincoln Prison. I had mentioned to him that I fancied teaching and that I loved "Do It Yourself" home improvement (DIY). He said that the prison was always looking for new subjects and gave me the name of the education officer. I contacted him and he invited me to the prison to meet him. I was then offered a position and began teaching the prisoners one evening a week. I taught them how to look after their homes and they taught me how to break into them - as well as into cars and safes! I hope that what I taught them was as useful as what they taught me. One time I locked myself out of my car and was able to get back in using the techniques they had taught me.
It always amused my wife if someone phoned me at home when I was teaching at the prison. She would tell them “He’s not here, he’s in prison!”. She did then explain, however.
I learnt a lot about teaching and class control in the prison, and how to get on with students. Most of the prisoners weren’t there to learn but to get out of their cells for an hour or so. But I learnt to include humour and make learning enjoyable for them, and to build a rapport with the class, for if you enjoy it your students will enjoy it also. I took this knowledge with me when I moved into lecturing at college and university level. If you don’t do that people will just “switch off”. Teaching in the prison, I was always prepared to have a joke and, as a result, they behaved themselves. I never had any problems and, most importantly, I enjoyed the evenings, as did they. No matter how I felt when I went into the prison, when I came out, I felt great. I taught there for several years.
It was during my time at the Polytechnic that I became friends with Andrew Charlett, a lecturer at the college, who had supervised my dissertation for my BSc.
It was through Andrew that my speaking career developed, as he had been asked by a contact at Loughborough University if he knew anyone who could deliver their Project Evaluation and Development module for undergraduate and postgraduate students. He knew that I had done that in the real world, so he asked if I would be interested in doing that on a visiting lecturing basis. We arranged a meeting with their Head of School, and I was offered the position, which I accepted on a yearly basis, something I continued to do for four years.
I got into writing books as I had difficulty finding a suitable one as recommended reading for the courses that I was teaching. The easiest way around that was to produce my own. My first book was entitled “Successful Property Development”. The advantage to that was having a ready market of people who would buy the book. I also had a proofreader in Andrew.
When I decided that I wanted to do a Master’s degree, I asked Andrew if he would supervise me again and he agreed to do so. My research degree was on ‘Aspects of Security in Dwellings’. In order to give my dissertation credibility, I needed to work with an organisation considered proficient in my subject area. At the time I was Chairman of the Lincoln Crime Prevention Panel and working closely with Lincolnshire Police, so I enlisted their support. I had gotten involved in the crime prevention panel through my voluntary work with the Lincoln Association for the Care of the Elderly.
Having successfully completed my Master of Philosophy in 1992, I moved on to another degree at the University of Hull, which was convenient because they required attendance just one day a week. This was a Master of Education. Since I was working in education at the time, I thought it appropriate to obtain a qualification in the subject. I found that to be the easiest of all my qualifications as by that time I knew what was required and was well into the system of study and the production of academic work. I completed my Master of Education in 1995. After that, I thought about doing a Doctorate, but Val thought that I had done enough studying so I called it a day.
By this time, doing educational courses had become a routine part of my life, so I continued doing other courses as a hobby. I was particularly interested in computers, so I obtained several computer and information technology qualifications that were to hold me in good stead in the years ahead.
At that time, I was visiting Nottingham Trent University one day a week lecturing on Higher National and undergraduate courses for construction and surveying, which meant very long days. I travelled by train so that I could work during the journey rather than waste the time driving.
I should clarify incidentally that Trent Polytechnic changed its name in 1988 to Nottingham Polytechnic, and that was to become Nottingham Trent University in 1992, so although the names were different the establishment was the same.
I love lecturing as I like people, sharing my knowledge, and making learning enjoyable for them. Certainly, it was nice to build up a rapport with a group, which I was able to do. On one occasion when I walked into my first session with a group that I had taught the previous year, they erupted into applause, which I found quite touching.
I also found it very rewarding to see people develop and progress. Once I was at Nottingham Trent University on my way to give a lecture when I met a guy who had been a student on the Higher National Certificate course the previous year and who had completed the qualification. I asked what he was doing there, and he informed me that he was now doing a degree, as I had inspired him by my example.
In addition to lecturing for universities, I had also been doing some speaking engagements at several colleges for Protocol, one of the foremost education recruitment and training companies in the UK. They were looking for someone who was experienced in distance learning and who was computer literate to assess an online course for them. As I had written numerous distance learning modules and had several qualifications in computing, I was engaged by them to do this work.
The course that I was to assess was the Institute of IT Training Certificate in Online Tutoring. Once I had done the assessment, I met with the client to give a presentation on my findings. They had just bought the course with the intention of marketing it and wanted to know my views. After making the presentation, I was asked if I would be interested in working for the company full-time. My response was that, if they made me an offer, I would consider it. I was invited to their head office in London to meet with the directors of the company. They had put together a package and offered me the position of On-line Manager. It was a good package, and as I would be working from home, I accepted the position.
I worked for Protocol for two years and only left when they wanted me to work from their Barnsley office full-time. I had been going to the office in Barnsley several days a week, but it was a drive of an hour and a half each way, so I wasn’t prepared to do it every day.
Around that time, I saw an advertisement for a lecturer in Construction at Lincoln College and so I applied. Having a degree in Building, being a Chartered Builder and Chartered Surveyor, and having lectured at college and university levels on the subject, I thought I would have a good chance of getting the job. My confidence of success increased when I was called for an interview to find that the Head of School and the Programme Leader were both people I knew from my days of studying at Lincoln College. I was required to give a lecture to a group of students to see how I did. It went well and I was offered the job, which was lecturing in Building and Civil Engineering Studies to technicians and managers up to professional status. I started this in 2002.
Within a year, the vacancy of Curriculum Leader became available, so I applied and was accepted. I was now responsible for the development of new programmes and courses for the School of Construction.
In 2007, Lincoln College of Technology underwent a reorganisation which required that I reapply for my position. My line manager, Chris Bean, and I had talked about setting up our own training company and this seemed the ideal time to do it. Chris had been at the college for many years and most of the people in senior positions in the local construction companies knew him and had been his students. Several of the companies were at Lincoln College not for the college but for Chris. So, when he told them that he and I were thinking of setting up on our own, a couple of them said that they would come with us. When we made the final decision to form our own business, Chris’s Personal Assistant, Helen, said she would like to join us as well.
Helen, Chris, and me
We set up Gates MacBain Associates Limited, as an educational consultancy and training provider, to work within the construction industry for the provision and assessment of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) for all levels of Construction Supervision and Management. We also provided Incorporated and Chartered Engineer mentoring through the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE), as well as Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and Management Courses. Thanks to Chris’s contacts, we were up and running from day one and were soon involved in additional projects.
My contacts were the universities and, through them, we were engaged to establish ConstructionSite.org.uk, the national e-learning and resource website for higher and further education institutions. I was the technical expert, author advisor, and editor, as well as the writer of many of the modules.
Gates MacBain quickly became very successful and was one of the country’s foremost private construction training providers.
In 2010, Gates MacBain Associates was invited to the National Training Awards. Chris, Helen, and I went along for the evening. I quite like such events as, apart from the social aspects, it enables us to network, and we got a lot of work from them. On this occasion, I was recognised in the Individual Award category of the National Training Awards for Outstanding Achievements in Training and Development for the benefits that my work had provided to others.
Receiving the National Training Award
After a decade of success, Chris and I decided that it was time to retire. A woman who worked for us at that time wanted to purchase the company from us. Chris and I agreed to sell her the business. We also agreed to continue on as associates and assess assignments for her. Also, I continued to maintain the website which I had designed and set up originally. The good thing was that I could do this work from anywhere in the world, as long as I had an internet connection.
Chris and I sold Gates MacBain in November 2016.