Aside from being a Preston Technical School foundation student, Ken Fyffe could be considered something of a prototype NMIT student having attended both Preston and Collingwood Technical Schools decades before the two amalgamated to become the modern entity known as NMIT.
Ken attended Preston Technical School (PTS) from 1937-39, passing his Junior and Intermediate Technical Certificates. He remembers the school fondly, says that it was well run and that Mr Aberdeen, the first principal, was a good principal. He played cricket and loved running, taking part in inter-school sports. He studied the full technical and general curriculum, and enjoyed the practical subjects such as industrial drawing, woodwork, sheet metal, and fitting and turning, but was less successful at science, and electricity and magnetism.
Ken left PTS to work at Bruce Small’s in South Melbourne, learning to make bicycles, and then moved to Sutton’s Tool and Gauge Company in Northcote, where he started a five-year apprenticeship in fitting and turning, attending night classes at Collingwood Technical School. After completing his apprenticeship he went to Cook and Williams in Abbotsford to work as a toolmaker.
At the age of 25, Ken designed his first home, in Malpas Street, Preston. After drawing the plans, he co-wrote the specifications, then, with some help from other tradesmen, worked to build his home. He says the skills he learned at Preston Technical School, and later at Collingwood Technical School, enabled him to conceptualise, draw, then build, almost anything, and these skills, coupled with a sound process for problem solving, stood him in good stead for the rest of his life.
Continuing his technical education at a higher level, Ken went to Melbourne Technical College to study supervision and management. He became a foreman in the machine shop at Malcolm Moore Industries in Port Melbourne, and carried out time and motion studies in the office, before moving on to the Ford Motor Company Tractor Division in 1964, to set up quality control procedures in their tractor plants in each state of Australia. Ford sent him to Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and then to England to solve production line problems. In Basilton, Essex, he reorganised the production line to clearly identify parts at each stage of production to ensure that no mistakes were made in assembly. Under his guidance, the plant doubled its production of tractors from 50 to 100 each day, complete and packed ready to ship for worldwide distribution, quite an achievement for this modest technical school boy who says he wasn’t good at school.
Reflecting on a long career as a manager, Ken attributes his success to the early grounding he received during his technical education at Preston Technical School and Collingwood Technical School. He believes that those who have a university education skip a vital part of their development, missing the opportunity to acquire essential practical experience, and the analytical and orderly approach to problem solving that he was taught in the technical education system.