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Bob Tomsky: Addicted to Teaching

Feb. 4, 2016
For Tomsky, now a technical training specialist for SOS Intl, the best thing about his job as a trainer is when his students “get it!” 

Bob Tomsky has been involved in adult training in some way, shape or form all of his adult life.  His journey began in 1978 when he became a ski patroller. He had to enroll in an advanced first aid and CPR course taught by the American Red Cross.  He found the old adage to be true – “the more you learn, the more you need to learn.”  He wanted to learn even more and realized the best way to learn it is to teach. The desire to teach eventually found him teaching Advanced First Aid and CPR as a paramedic. And that’s how his teaching career began.

For Tomsky, now a technical training specialist for SOS Intl, the best thing about his job as a trainer is when his students “get it!”  Especially if they share with him the many failed attempts that previous trainers and facilitators had at trying to teach them.  “In my book, that’s a victory,” Tomsky said. “It’s actually an addiction for me and I think that’s the main reason most trainers continue to instruct.  For me, I feel like I’m more of a facilitator, here to guide students to understand.”

T&D World discussed with Tomsky his experience in teaching and how he got into the electric power industry:

Q: How does your current position help you in training —and how does your past experience help you in this role?

The instant your students “get it,” or that “aha” moment, when the light bulb goes on (yes, pun intended) is a tremendous feeling for an instructor.  Every endeavor I pursue, I yearn to learn as much as I can. Eventually, I find myself instructing or teaching. This passion for learning led me to becoming a trainer with the Ski Patrol for 25 years, Professional Ski Instructor (PSIA) for 23 years, and eventually training students on the intricacies of the Bulk Electric System for the past 30 years. 

Again, in my quest to learn more, I completed my Masters of Education in Adult Learning in 2010 so I could apply the theories, tools, and techniques in my industry training.  I was intrigued with the millennials and modern learners, and focused my attention on the mobile eLearning field and how to teach and train remotely using iPads, iPhones and other mobile devices. I think that as the utility workforce becomes inundated with millennials, the utility instructors must adapt to the new workforce’s learning styles and change our traditional ways of training.

Q: When and why did you decide to go into your particular career field?

Actually, my training for the electric industry was purely by accident.  My father owned a tool and die business so I learned a great deal about the drawings he used to design complicated machines. It just made sense to become a drafter. Essentially, I found myself quite good at drawing. I won many awards for my work in both high school and college. 

During college, I began dating a girl whose father was an electrical engineer. At the time I thought the electrical one-line drawings were somewhat boring.  In 1978, I began working as a drafter for Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. While there, I drew transformers, switchgear, and other high voltage equipment.  My career progressed to testing the equipment and relays, then as a System Operator and Marketer. For 15 years, I trained my coworkers. Mind you, there was no formal On-The-Job training established at that time.  Now, as the story goes, here I am over 35 years later a trainer for SOS Intl.

Q: What courses and content have you trained on in the past, and what’s coming? 

My main concentration since joining SOS in June of 2015 has been instructor-led training on the NERC Certification Prep class.  It’s tremendously rewarding to help students understand NERC requirements and help them to prepare for the exam.   My upcoming responsibilities include developing new online classes.  I feel instructor-led training is the best way for students to learn, but realistically, online training works best for many utilities. Combining my classroom experience, the knowledge I have about the Bulk Electric System, and my Masters of Education background help me to develop quality content for online classes so students can easily access training at their convenience.                

Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your past experience as a trainer that you want to communicate to trainers, students or participants?

After more than 35 years of training, I find that I learn something from students during every single class. I don’t know – and I venture to say neither does anyone else - everything there is to know about the utility industry. The industry is very dynamic and constantly changing. So, learning from other students during class is a two-way street - a win-win situation for the students and for me. This is what keeps my job as a trainer fun, fresh and exciting.

Q: Why do you think your particular job as a trainer is important to the industry? How does it help the students?

The electric industry is presently in a state of flux. More and more experienced Operators are beginning to retire.  The industry experts predict a short fall of experienced workers soon.  When experienced operators retire, knowledge and experience walk out the door. And that can be detrimental to the reliability of the system.  Reliability does matter. That’s why NERC has their certification standards.   It’s going to be left up to us to provide quality training to enhance performance of new industry employees. By training, I am sharing my experience and knowledge with the “new generation” so they can keep our lights on.

Q. What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am a lifelong learner and live to learn new things. I am constantly reading and attending webinars and workshops.  During the winter, I continue to teach skiing on a part-time basis. I realize that being a ski instructor for more than 23 years renews me and enhances that desire to learn.  The teaching methods I acquire by attending ski clinics actually help me in my training classes. Also, during the summer I enjoy golfing and biking – anything that allows me to be outside in the mountains of Colorado. It rejuvenates my brain.

Q. Anything else you would like to add about your training philosophy ?

I recall my first introduction to training decades ago.  That particular training session was similar to most of my high school and college classes. In other words, it was lackluster. I didn’t want to be there. The content was boring, I wasn’t engaged, and quite honestly I didn’t know why I was there.  I remember how my economics teacher in high school, Mr. Pegliaro, adopted a more conventional way of teaching his students.  Mr. P taught based on the way each student learned. Once students realize what’s in it for them, they were engaged. And once again, they “get it” and want to learn more.  I remember the success of his method and that’s how I prepare my training now.  Every student is unique because of their experiences and each has different needs.  We prepare training to deliver required material, but how we get there is the fun part - many different and interesting paths are traveled while experiences are shared.  At SOS, we consolidate the feedback we obtain from the various training classes and strive to make them better – always striving for more engagement and content that is timely and relevant to our industry.  As our industry’s experienced trainers and mentors retire, training will be critical. Why not learn and have fun doing it together?

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