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Keeping it real is the way to teach plumbing online

Olaf Sparrow and his dream video production team

Wintec plumbing tutor Olaf Sparrow and the Sparrow dream video production team.


When Springhill Prison went into a different kind of lockdown recently, during Covid-19 level 3 and 4, their plumbing tutor, Olaf Sparrow was released back to Wintec with a new challenge – to teach plumbing online.

For ‘the best part’ of nine years, Sparrow, a former plumber, high school teacher and soldier in the New Zealand Army, has taught his trade at Springhill Prison along with two other Wintec tutors who teach carpentry and painting.

The workshop was always his classroom, but that has changed.

“Covid-19 has really disrupted students’ learning and the experience they usually get in the workshop. We’re helping them online, so they are getting supported, he says.

“What we’ve been doing is really important to keep engagement happening to help our learners get through.”

Back at Wintec, he is supporting colleague Dan Roling teach the NZ Certificate in Plumbing Drainlaying and Gasfitting.

He’s the first to admit it takes a special kind of effort to deliver practical training via a laptop from the kitchen table while looking after the kids.

It started in 2021 during the first lockdown when he “made a few videos”.

He made the most of what he had and involved his children in making a series of simple plumbing videos to ensure students had what they needed to get through.

They were aimed at pre-apprentice level tauira/learners. And they worked.

“I put my overalls on, set up in the garden, my daughter did the editing, and my son was our director.”

He says it’s important his videos reflect the trades environment.

“There is banter, there’s a few laughs and I draw on my own experience. My videos are low production, I’ll admit they can be a bit corny, but I try to make them relatable.”

For Sparrow, mixing the banter and a bit of humility is important.

“It’s important to just give it a go. What I am doing is not Academy Award stuff. Involve your kids at home, even your cell phone is fine, put it on a lunch box. Use what you have and do what you have to do,” he says.

“Don’t listen to your own voice too much.  Be yourself. Be authentic.”

Keeping it real, really sums up Sparrow’s home situation which many working parents can relate to.

“I’ve got a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old so when they are also having to learn from home, you can’t work all day. You need that time. Accept that it’s not your normal work routine.”

In fact Sparrow’s ability to deliver the practical in an often… impractical way has seen him sharing material back to his students in prison and with other polytechnics across the network of Te Pūkenga that Wintec is part of.

Sparrow and Roling have been delivering a block course to Ara (Canterbury’s polytechnic) online to help their learners with plumbing theory.

“This is a first. I got asked and as we were already delivering online theory so it wasn’t difficult to extend it to another polytechnic within our Te Pūkenga network.”


Wintec plumbing tutor Olaf Sparrow is passing on the practical skills he was taught online

Wintec plumbing tutor, Olaf Sparrow is passing on the practical skills he was taught online to ensure lockdowns are not a barrier to students’ success.   

Wintec team Manager Trades, Amy Opperman  was in her new role for just six days before the last lockdown happened with 24 hours warning.

“Before I joined the Wintec Trades team, I'd often wondered how trades could be taught when they had to deliver practical learning during a lockdown, but it's been quite the opposite. I could have panicked, but I soon discovered we are in pretty good hands. I am so proud to be the team manager of these guys.”

Sparrow jokes that “maybe it’s a genetic illness but there are a lot of teachers in my family – maybe it was role modelling. If you don’t mind talking in front of people, teaching is natural fit”.

“Teaching is about relationships, getting to know people and enjoying what you do. Someone taught me when I was a plumbing apprentice, and now I am in a position to pass it on.”

Back in the workshop, Sparrow has now collaborated with Wintec to reproduce his 10-minute “tool time” videos which are available on YouTube. If you’ve ever wondered how to join copper or polybutylene pipe, you can now  watch and learn from Ollie’s 10-minute Tools videos.

Find out more about becoming a plumber with Wintec.

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