Shortly thereafter he met up with a friend working as a foreman during the building of Southbank’s Lyric Theatre. Enamoured by the energy and dynamism he saw in front of him the young scientist in the making made the decision to turn his academic hat over to a hard hat and become an apprentice carpenter.
Fast-forward to today Mark has told this story to a large number of young people in his educational care, especially to those who have been led to believe that the only mark of success is academic. As CEO of AITC, Mark proudly leads the charge towards the college becoming ground breakers, shifting the focus to industry-based real world learning. A college where Year 10, 11 and 12 students complete their senior education and start their school-based paid apprenticeships in the trade of their choice.
AITC started more than a decade ago when Mark was approached by a group of industry leaders, who had the inspired idea that there was something missing in developing the next generation of trade professionals. With a background in the building industry, and a foray into school principal leadership, Mark was the perfect fit to champion their passion and AITC was born.
But changing the conversation that university isn’t the only path to success wasn’t an easy message to deliver. In fact, his first detractors came from an unusual place, from the students themselves. ‘I’ll never forget the day I walked into a classroom of 15 year olds, and one said “Mr Hands we feel like second class citizens, we get given all the scraps, teachers just want to keep us dumb kids entertained,”’ Mark says.
‘It was so important to let these young people know there is more than just academic intelligence, what about spatial, emotional, technical intelligence,’ he says. ‘Australian parents and schools are enamoured with academic success leading to university as the only worthwhile destination, it’s just so limiting and anaemic.’
When asked what AITC do differently, Mark explains they educate with industry skills in mind. When they teach mathematics for example, it’s contextual to their working life. It’s mathematics that relates to tax, salaries, designing and building a home and budgeting. The response from the students is proof that it works. ‘Suddenly, the students say to us, they love maths, it never made sense before and now it does,’ he says.