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Teacher’s passion the key to student success

Dan Zvanovec blends a lifelong interest in fixing big machines with his love of teaching, a combination that benefits students taking technical training in the trade of millwright at MITT in Winnipeg. His passion for teaching excellence has motivated him to


ow 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 refer-

ences the TV program How It’s Made, adding that the show gives a good overview. “Millwrights are repair gurus,” Zvanoevec explains. “Tey 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 ma- chines, 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. “Te vast knowledge you accumulate over the years – you never stop learning. Tat’s what makes this trade different from others.”

Born to teach

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. Tey 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 Compe- tition. “Two years ago in Leipzig, Germany, we presented a proposal to add the trade of millwright to this international event,” says Zvanovec. Tat 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. “Tis one will be a huge event,” he says. “Tis is ‘our Olym- pics’ and to be there is a dream come true!”

different. To begin, while I was walking toward a restaurant in the concourse, out of nowhere a red suited employee stopped me to – of all things – see if I needed help. Te nerve! Ten once on board, I was intro- duced to the safety demon- stration through a MTV-style music video that would put Madonna to shame. I think it was the first time in10 years I have paid attention. Tis was not normal. My daughter used to say,

"Normal is just a setting on a dryer.” In the general sense of the

term, normal means con- forming to the standard or the average. Te definition I like is, “conforming to the convention of one’s group.” To truly answer the question, we must

Think Shift David Baker

first clarify: normal in relation to what? Are you talking about intelligence, be-

haviour, dress, attitude, service, profit? “Normal” can refer to almost anything, but in the absence of a frame of reference, there is no answer. Describing something or someone as normal is really a charac- terization of a relationship: it can’t exist without an “other.” It’s a description of both a group and the outlier.

November 2015

What is normal? I

was on a flight from LA to Chicago this past week, my first with Virgin Airlines. I could tell early on things were a little

Zvanovec’s interest in teaching was not immediately ap-

parent. 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 Apprentice- ship Manitoba online at

When you think of airlines, how would

you characterize the convention of the group? I suggest it is largely unhappy, has- sled people mostly concerned with getting to end of their shift or flight. Later in the week I was on another flight, this time with United. An at- tendant named Glory was in charge; she was happy and clearly invested in us all hav- ing a great experience. She was enjoying herself and had us talking and smiling. It was obvious she was engaged, and a few passengers and I noted how rare it was. Normal customer service is

what we have come to expect. It doesn't stand out; it is why we describe it as the norm. Unfortunately, in airlines and restaurants and most busi- nesses today, the minimum level of service – the least you

can do to get by – is the norm. If it’s the outlier who gets the attention,

the praise and the repeat business, why do we so often accept the safety of the middle? Why are we surprised when we phone

a customer service department and get a human instead of voicemail? Why is ex- traordinary so rare? When Elvis started gyrating his hips as

he belted out rock and roll, it was different. But only until others started to follow suit. When Apple reinvented the mobile phone,

it was different – until LG, Samsung and HTC started to copy. Different, when proven attractive, only

lasts so long, because others inevitably seek to emulate. Over time different tends to become nor-

mal. It's just the natural course of events. It’s what happens any time someone breaks the mold. We have to resist the temptation to be

OK with being normal, to fight the path of least resistance and stop accepting the minimum level of customer service, the average attitude or the brand that doesn’t stand out. We must make the choice not only to be different, but also to stop accepting normal. If we are going to make a difference, we

have to be different and stay different. We have to embrace the commitment and energy it takes to stand up to the pressure to conform. We have to insist the norm is not good enough. We have to be like Virgin Airlines or Glory at United. When those around us want to be normal, we need to choose to stay different. Shift in Thinking is a monthly article

from chief storyteller David Baker with a call to action for organizations and individ- uals. Using engaging narratives and prob- ing questions, he seeks to provoke a new way of thinking around brand, culture and leadership, and to help readers intention- ally realize their potential – Potentionality!

Smart Biz 7

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