Teacher’s passion the key to student success

by Apprenticeship Manitoba

“How many of you know what a millwright does?”
Dan Zvanovec usually asks his students this question the first day of class. An instructor at the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology (MITT), Zvanovec‘s three decades of teaching have made him aware that not many people are familiar with his trade.
When discussing what a millwright does, he often references the TV program How It’s Made, adding that the show gives a good overview. “Millwrights are repair gurus,” Zvanoevec explains. “They install industrial machinery and equipment, ensure it operates efficiently and basically, keep business and industry up and running.”
He says his career choice was inspired by his father, a well-respected machinist. While working at a paper mill in Kenora, Ontario in the mid-1970s, Zvanovec developed what would turn out to be an enduring interest in big machines, how they operate and how to fix them when they break down.Lifelong learning

According to Zvanovec, being a millwright is a journey of lifelong learning that continues after achieving trade certification. And he should know. He’s been a millwright for 39 years, much of which he has spent teaching. “The vast knowledge you accumulate over the years – you never stop learning. That’s what makes this trade different from others.”
His passion for teaching excellence has motivated him to travel all over the country, gaining knowledge and skills to enhance his already-considerable grasp of the field. “Every fall when I return to the classroom, I feel I’ve acquired more skills, more knowledge and more ability. It really motivates me to share what I’ve learned with my students.”

To succeed as a millwright, a potential new apprentice should be mechanically inclined. In addition to having good manual dexterity and co-ordination, those entering the trade benefit from an interest in science, math and physics. They also need to be in good shape. “Millwrights are often faced with physical challenges, so you have to make sure you stay physically fit and in good health,” says Zvanovec.
Working with fellow millwright instructor Craig Brazil, Zvanovec recently convinced the International Board of World Skills to include the trade in the World Skills Competition. “Two years ago in Leipzig, Germany, we presented a proposal to add the trade of millwright to this international event,” says Zvanovec.

That proposal got results. At this year’s competition in Sao Paulo, Brazil, “millwright” was introduced as a new competition category. Zvanovec is now helping to organize a major skills competition for millwrights in Abu Dhabi. “This one will be a huge event,” he says. “This is ‘our Olympics’ and to be there is a dream come true!”

Born to teach

Zvanovec’s interest in teaching was not immediately apparent. Eight years after starting work as a millwright, he successfully applied to the University of Manitoba to study computer science. In his third year at U of M, he applied for and got his first teaching job at the South Winnipeg Vocational Educational Centre (now MITT).
He simultaneously took a vocational teaching course at Red River College. It was then that he recognized teaching to be his true passion. “It was like I was born to teach. I wake up every day and walk through that classroom door with a smile on my face.
Zvanovec is eligible to retire now but says he still has a lot to give before he leaves. “I want to make sure MITT is recognized as one of Canada’s top training facilities,” he says, adding that to date, MITT has more Skills Competition medals than any other college in Canada – four gold and three silver Skills Canada (national) medals in the trade of millwright alone.

Being a proponent of the benefits of lifelong learning also plays a role in delaying Zvanovec’s retirement plans. “For me, teaching is learning. I learn from my students every day.”
To find out more about apprenticeship opportunities and the Industrial Mechanic (Millwright) trade, visit Apprenticeship Manitoba online at manitoba.ca/tradecareers.

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