Apprentice of the Year
Certificate III in Plumbing, South West TAFE
Having grown up on a farm in Mortlake in Victoria's west, Shona knew she wanted a career that required practical skills where she could work outdoors. During her senior years at secondary school, she was exposed to plumbing as a career at the South West TAFE Taster Day. Against advice from some school staff members who insisted that plumbing was not a career for women, she enrolled in the VET in Schools plumbing program, and she loved it.
Happiness equates to success for Shona, but she has won several awards including South West TAFE's Apprentice of the Year (2019) and then overall Apprentice of the Year at South West TAFE (2020). She hopes that her success will inspire others to follow their dreams, even if like hers, they are unconventional.
Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician at NECA Education and Careers
It took a leap of faith and no small amount of courage for Nellie Baker to discover her dream career after she started her third qualification. Her first Diploma was in Fashion Design and Technology and although she enjoyed the hands-on components, the design process didn't suit her. The second, a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics, satisfied her love of maths and science but it was heavy in report writing. Thankfully she kept searching until she found the electrical field, which ignited her passion.
Nellie has found confidence and satisfaction working as an electrical apprentice as well as her active involvement in the Electrical Trades Union Women's Committee, where she's dedicated to helping and inspiring other young women through sharing her experience. Nellie aspires to one day become an electrical trade schoolteacher to help shape the careers of future apprentices.
Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician, Bendigo TAFE
Joel Handcock began his working life at global food manufacturing company Simplot 13 years ago when he apprenticed as a fitter and turner. As it turned out, that path wasn't the right fit, so he decided to reconnect with his childhood passion for electronics. Going from being a full-time tradesperson overseeing apprentices to undertaking a new apprenticeship at age 28 had its challenges, including living on an apprentice's wage. Joel became a father during his first year, but he remained determined to be a success on all fronts.
Joel believes that his successful apprenticeship was contingent on being attentive and proactive in taking the initiative to support the tradespeople he worked with. His great work ethic and achievements didn't go unrecognised. In 2019 he was the Global Apprenticeship Network (GAN) Australia's International Apprentice Scholarship recipient, and in February 2020 he was awarded Apprentice of the Year at Bendigo TAFE.
Trainee of the Year
Certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing, Box Hill Institute
Animal lover Nicole Barrow knew from a young age that she would work in a profession that involved animals. During her schooling, she worked at a thoroughbred stud on weekends, and after completing year 12 at the end of 2016, she got a job at a Warmblood breeding facility which helped her become surer of her career path. It soon became clear that because of her fascination with animal anatomy and physiology, she should become a veterinary nurse.
Nicole signed up for a traineeship at Rose City Veterinary Hospital in Benalla and began her course at the start of 2017. She was very engaged in learning the skills and knowledge provided by the medical and surgical nursing unit at the clinic. The further Nicole progressed in her training and education, the more she fell in love with her vocation. Her dedication to her studies saw her qualify in January 2020, and awarded the title, 'Student of the Year' at Box Hill Institute.
Certificate IV in Community Services, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
Before becoming a persuasive advocate for young people with addiction issues, Tamara Eldridge had to emerge from her own shell. She chose to study community services because of her lived experience within the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) sector. After journeying to recovery, she wanted to help other people see that change was possible.
Her peer support skills were sought out after commencing studies at RMIT. Over the months she built positive trusting relationships with the small group of trainees. Studying the Cert IV in Community Services gave Tamara's life a structure and purpose and in so doing, restored her sense of self-worth. Showing up to work every day and receiving positive feedback about the tasks and assignments she had successfully completed, demonstrated that she was involved in something worthwhile and meaningful, which filled her with pride.
Certificate IV in Business, Chisholm Institute
There are few workplaces that cater well to the Deaf community, so when Nicholas Steer was offered a traineeship through Expression Australia, a not for profit organisation that provides services to deaf people, he jumped at it. Nicholas brings an enthusiasm for education to his workplace and the training environment and demonstrates that being deaf is no barrier to high achievement.
Nicholas' is also a strong advocate for the Deaf community, where he works to help break down barriers and improve awareness of the challenges of deaf people. He's part of the Deafhood team that advocates for better access for deaf and hard of hearing people, and a Youth Governor for the YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament Program where he's invited to speak regularly at events. In 2019 he was honoured to be an Australian delegate at the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section General Assembly in Paris, France.
Vocational Student of the Year
Diploma of Community Services, Wodonga Institute of TAFE
Renowned bicycle mechanic and rider Simon Watts had been providing a community service since 2010 when he established the not-for-profit Border Community Cycleworks. He supplied free bicycles to people in need for transport, rehabilitation and exercise, as well as conducting bike education programs in schools. After a hiatus in studying for more than 15 years, he decided to formalise his community service credentials and take his ultimate career ride into Wodonga TAFE to embrace a Community Service Diploma.
Achieving the Community Service Diploma has been a life-changing experience for Simon and he's an avid ambassador for training and lifelong learning as he glimpses into the worlds of those who have had extraordinary experiences including refugees fleeing conflict and the homeless. He was nicknamed the 'high achiever' and awarded Student of the Year by Wodonga TAFE. His own training accomplishment makes him a powerful role model for those who are unsure of their path.
Certificate IV in Leisure and Health, genU Training
Embarking on a new profession supporting lifestyle programs in an aged-care facility was Scott Tomlinson's dream come true. He left careers in customer service and childcare spanning more than two decades and undertook a qualification in leisure and health because he wanted to make a positive difference to the quality of life of older people. To do this, he had to be courageous and tackle his own challenges.
Scott has a strong sense of empathy and finds a way to connect with people regardless of age, culture or state of being. He achieves this by listening to the person and letting them show him the way to connect. With courage and unshakable determination Scott exemplifies the spirit of community service in every avenue of his life. As a strong advocate for life-long learning, Scott's own story inspires others to know that even when living with a disability, perseverance pays off.
Diploma of Applied Fashion Design and Merchandising, Kangan Institute
Bethany Maree Peele is tailor made for the fashion world and she expressed herself through diverse styles and shopping for unique items. Things got more serious during a visit to Cambodia, where she heard harrowing stories of terrible working conditions in the heart of the clothing manufacturing precinct. This prompted her to launch into a new career in fashion design where she could be part of the conversation to change the fashion industry and provide sustainable, ethical options for consumers.
Strong technical and creative design skills, work ethic and drive saw Bethany complete the Diploma course in 2019 with many awards and accolades. She was awarded Kangan Institute's 2019 Student of the Year and received SpecSavers' 2019 Young Innovator Design Award for creating cutting-edge female eyewear designs. Her designs are currently being manufactured for sale in Australian and New Zealand SpecSavers stores in 2021.
School-based Apprentice or Trainee of the Year
Van Sui Thawng
Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician, Box Hill Institute
Van Sui Thawng faced terrible adversity in war-torn Myanmar. He and his family fled the country in 2009 and took a long journey to Australia, with time spent in a Malaysian refugee camp. Eventually they arrived in Melbourne and settled in Mooroolbark. Despite all of this, Van views challenges as a normal part of life and an opportunity to grow.
After attending an information evening at Yarra Hills Secondary College, Van decided to complete VCE and take on electrical trade training. It was a good choice given there was a skills shortage. The Head Start program was the perfect option to combine his ambitions to finish secondary school and become an electrician through the school-based apprenticeship.
To create further understanding and remove cultural barriers, Van teaches people at work about his background. This has created a sense of comfort to the point where he enjoys the workplace mateship. As a role model for other young Hakha Chin people Van leads by example and has become a voice to be heard in his community. He demonstrates that regardless of where they have come from, their cultural or language barriers, or experiences of adversity, if you have passion and a dream you can change your life and achieve your vision.
Certificate III in Air-conditioning and Refrigeration, MEGT Australia & GOTAFE
Knowing academia would not be his path, Callum Howden undertook work experience in several trades during Year 10. He was determined to find the right opportunity to begin his long-term career. While testing the field of industrial refrigeration and air-conditioning he became intrigued by the science of refrigeration. Soon after he commenced his school-based apprenticeship in refrigeration and air-conditioning with S.W Refrigeration.
On top of the Certificate III in Air-conditioning and Refrigeration, he's also completing a VET Electrotechnology Certificate II at GOTAFE. To balance out his studies, Callum volunteers for several community activities. He looks forward to further developing his skills and knowledge and there's no doubt that with his strong work ethic and self-belief, he will achieve his aim of becoming a renowned tradesman running his own business while training young apprentices.
Certicate III in Carpentry, Swinburne University of Technology and JS Lowther Builders
Darian Burgess has always wanted to be a carpenter. Many of his family members work in construction but Darian is looking forward to becoming the first to qualify in the trade. The building blocks of his passion were formed during childhood where he got firsthand experience helping in his father's handyman business.
Darian's school-based apprenticeship in carpentry began in February 2019 and he's taken to it like a hammer to a nail. It involves working three days per week with JS Lowther Builders and going full-time during school holidays, on top of completing his intermediate and senior VCAL Certificates at school.
In 2020 Darius was honoured to be appointed Upwey High School Senior VCAL Captain. Through his leadership he highlights the opportunities that come from a vocational educational program. Darian lives his belief that if you dream big, work hard, and utilise all your training opportunities, then the road to becoming a success in anything will be paved with mahogany.
Koorie Student of the Year
Certificate IV in Community Services, Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association (VACSAL)
Helping people heal from the effects of transgenerational trauma is a key goal of Matthew Atkinson, a proud Bangerang man who laid a path from his career as a carpenter into the justice department where he could provide direct support and services to the Aboriginal community.
Matthew's natural leadership ability has been honoured twice. After being nominated by peers, trainers and assessors, he won VACSAL's Student Leadership award in 2019. In 2017 he won his regions Fairely Leadership Award, which recognised promising leaders from a range of experiences. He's also completed a Certificate IV in Leadership and Management to strengthen his knowledge and ability to convey his important messages.
Now Matthew is enjoying his role as Koorie Case Manager with Shepparton Magistrates Court as well as being Chair of the Shepparton Local Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee. He's passionate about supporting his community to break the cycle of poverty, transgenerational trauma.
Certificate III in Business, Ai Group Apprentice and Trainee Centre
Proud Yamatji woman Grace Stewart took a gap year after completing Year 12, which gave her the opportunity to work while she explored her options for further study. Grace wanted to continue to tertiary studies in business but her VCE marks were not as she'd hoped, and she struggled to envision a bright future.
The gap year led to the discovery of the Youth Employment Scheme Traineeship where she could work and train at the same time through Ai Group Apprentice and Trainee Centre. Having the courage to step out of her comfort zone and into new situations enabled Grace to grow in an organisation where people warmly welcomed her, shared their wealth of learning and encouraged her development opportunities. Grace thrived in a collaborative and innovative environment amongst a diverse range of people.
Certificate III in Commercial Cookery, SuniTAFE, Mildura
Grandmother Elva Smerotkins' recipe for a fulfilled and happy life is to bestow kindness and caring on others and feed them delicious, nutritious food. Returning to study commercial cookery gave her the confidence to step up a notch in the kitchen and upgrade her chef qualifications so that she could rise to the level of sous chef in the aged care sector.
The training at SuniTAFE exceeded Elva's expectations and she was impressed that even though classes were full, the trainers still had time to provide one-on-one assistance. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the course was the teamwork and the relationships she developed with the younger generation of learners she practiced with. Mentoring is not a new role for Elva; being a mother to 6 and grandmother to 13 children requires taking a leadership role and she's proud that three generations of her family are currently studying at SuniTAFE. Elva tells them that life is short and it's never too late to learn. For Elva, spreading the love equates to sharing the food, and she likes to cook for people in need in her community.
Teacher/Trainer of the Year Award
Born and raised in the Bairnsdale area, Kevin Nunn spent a lot of his time growing up exploring the forest adjacent to the family farm in East Gippsland. Back then, there were no TAFE tree felling courses and people were expected to learn on the job. He remembers being filled with anxiety and adrenaline when he felled his first big Ash tree but when the dust settled, he turned to his teacher who just smiled and nodded his head. This experience nearly 40 years ago, guides how he trains his students today. With that same gesture, he tells his students that they've done a good job.
Kevin's the go-to person when it comes to adapting training to keep it engaging and applicable to real world scenarios. For example, the timber industry is significantly more automated than it was 15 years ago, with people and machinery working closely. Kevin has had the pleasure of teaching thousands of students about the industry that he loves, and he recognises each of their unique backgrounds and learning styles. His crucial work has helped make TAFE Gippsland a leading provider for forestry management and timber training.
Bendigo Kangan Institute
Marina McGrath's students are no strangers to having their fabric designs splashed across Australian fashion labels or their clothing appear on runways. By employing every available opportunity, including her vast industry networks, Marina has supported countless budding fashion designers to carve their own futures in the fast-evolving industry.
Her exceptional journey as a VET educator came after a 15-year career as a fashion designer and product developer in Melbourne, Sydney and Berlin. After having a family, she transitioned into teaching VET in 2006. Marina's passionate about leading the students to effect change in the design and manufacturing process across the global fashion chain to reduce the industry's negative environmental impact. She recently exposed them to Melbourne's first sustainable raw material, circular design and ethical manufacturing sourcing event, RAW Assembly, then organised for them to be volunteers at next year's event to lift their profiles in that arena.
When building and construction trainer Torin Coakley commenced his role nearly four years ago, his Certificate II in Building and Construction students were floundering. They simply couldn't keep track of all the printed pieces of paper with their assignment tasks written on them.
Torin innovated a solution to the course work that changed everything. He developed a resource book that contained all of the students' work in one document. Having one bound volume kept their work in a manageable state. This resource had a huge impact. Such is his dedication to his students he recently undertook the Certificate IV in Building and Construction and the Diploma of Building and Construction to update his own knowledge of the industry and to gain fresh insight into the experience of being a TAFE student. He studied in his own time while continuing fulltime teaching across a range of courses and student groups.