“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
At one time or another in our early years – whether by our parents, other family members or perhaps a teacher – we’ve all been asked that question. Very few of us would become astronauts, movie stars or professional athletes as we might have excitedly proclaimed. Some would follow in the footsteps of a mom or dad, choosing a similar career path or continuing a family business for another generation.
Often our careers are influenced by the experiences of our youth. And if we are truly blessed, we enjoyed those experiences, were good at them, and were able to transfer them into a vocation that we love. Gary Robinson, Technical Instructor for AmSkills, can relate. It was Mark Twain who famously said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” And it was Gary who said, “The invaluable experience as a young man helped to shape my desire and love for anything electrical or mechanical.”
Born and raised in Jamaica, Gary loved the outdoors and the huge farm that was his family’s home. Surrounded by produce, turkeys, rabbits, geese and peacocks, “There was never a dull moment,” he said. “And in the limited down time we did have, we played cricket or soccer.”
But it wasn’t all play in his spare time, and that was okay. “We were a practical family, and where it was possible to fix things instead of replace them, that’s what we did,” said Gary, who thinks of himself as a Jack-of-all-trades. “This was especially true when it came to electronic components or anything to do with automobiles. If the gear box, starter or alternator on a vehicle was broken, I’d help my dad take them apart and repair them.”
Like many of us, Gary remembers that one special teacher who had a positive impact on his education: His high school electrical teacher, Mr. Reed. “He was very inspiring, and the way he taught us made everything seem easy. This planted a seed in my mind that I wanted to be an instructor like him,” said Gary. He kept that thought in mind, and ultimately enrolled at the Vocational Training Development Institute (VTDI) and was part of the first graduating class of Electrical Instructors. With the growth of the bauxite and other industries across the Island, there was a great demand for skilled workers, so Gary’s certification – built upon his practical experience – was put to immediate use.
And this is where the alignment between Gary’s teaching career and his current position at AmSkills would begin to take shape. “I started teaching at a technical high school, where we focused on students graduating with marketable skills, fully competent in the skill of their choice,” said Gary. Students went through a one-year introductory program that introduced them to everything from electronics and electrical installation to metal works, auto mechanics and business management. They would then decide their specific course of study leading to their graduation three years later. Not unlike AmSkills, the school partnered with industry which recruited and hired many of the graduates.
Gary had found his passion, and his love for teaching would carry him through the next seventeen years in Jamaica. “Not only did I get to do something I love, but I hopefully influenced and changed lives for the better,” he said. “I feel I am blessed with a unique ability to look beyond people’s circumstances and identify their true potential.”
When Gary came to the United States in 2010, he was eager to learn something new, as long as it involved working with people. He tried sales for several years but found it unfulfilling. “I knew deep down that I still had a lot more to offer as a teacher, and that I needed to stay true to my passion,” he said. It was January of 2022, and that’s when Tom Mudano entered the picture.
With his amazing intuition at full power, Tom struck up a conversation with Gary, asking about his background, experience and interests. “He gave me his card and asked me to give AmSkills a look. Once I saw the vision of AmSkills, I knew it might be the opportunity to get back into something I love and be a part of something much bigger than me,” said Gary.
One year later, in January 2023, Gary joined the AmSkills team as Technical Instructor in charge of the Career Discovery Bootcamps. He introduces students to multiple hands-on projects including blueprint and precision measurement, soldering, electrical and mechatronics; guides their tours of local manufacturers and oversees their OSHA 10 safety certification; and helps assess their employability skills and prepare them for job interviews.
“It is truly an honor to serve alongside such a professional and committed team, and I am grateful that AmSkills has rekindled my passion to serve,” said Gary. “Seeing people’s lives changed for the better – uplifting and empowering them in their communities through our workforce training and apprenticeship programs – is a rewarding experience.”