For many, the appeal of vocational education is its reputation for practical training. It's seen to suit those who like to jump straight into action and get their hands dirty.
Certainly, chef Alyssa Heard says that she has "always known what she wanted to do with her life", and that she "loves" the personal joy that she gets from the hands-on aspects of cooking and baking.
But Alyssa also values the process of her craft and the deeper motivations for doing it.
"Creating fresh and slow food that is made with love is important to me."
This balanced approach served Alyssa well when she went through the process of applying for the Apprentice of the Year of the 2018 Victorian Training Awards (VTAs).
Applicants are asked to write about themselves and their achievements and then be interviewed by a panel of judges.
This process may seem to require skills different to the practical ones that the sector is commonly known for. But Alyssa is adamant that those in the vocational and TAFE sectors have so much to be proud of, and that they should pause to reflect on their achievements.
"The process was a fantastic experience – I learnt so much."
"It is important to recognise alternative educational pathways for high school students, parents and mature age students and prove just how far you can go and how much you can achieve through vocational education and training."
When she enrolled in a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery at Federation University, Alyssa knew that part of the appeal of being a chef was the ability to travel around the world.
But it wasn't until she won a Victorian Training Award and was then the Runner-Up in the Australian Training Awards (ATAs) Apprentice of the Year category that she could start seeing pathways to making that idea a reality.
"Winning Victorian Apprentice of the Year was life-changing. And the ATAs Runner-up award meant that I was able to apply for an Australian Overseas Foundation scholarship. I then travelled to England where I worked at a patisserie and then as a pastry chef at a 4 Red Star/3 Rosette Hotel."
The Rosette rating system is similar to the Michelin Star system, with 3 Rosettes commonly equating to 1 Michelin Star.
"I have gained many opportunities from the Victorian Training Awards and I was able to travel to some amazing places because of this."
On top of this, Alyssa says that she "met so many amazing people" that she wouldn't have met otherwise.
Lessons for Uncertain Times
With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the hospitality industry in Australia and around the world, Alyssa is currently not able to work in her field.
But the time away from the industry has allowed her to take stock of her achievements since the whirlwind of winning a VTA.
Alyssa's message at this time of unexpected interruption for the hospitality industry and the larger vocational and TAFE community is to "stay true to yourself" – even when you encounter obstacles or have to take an unconventional path.
"I've recognised how much can be achieved through vocational training and TAFE and how successful people can be without a university degree."
And she maintains this brimming optimism for the future in which she can reconnect with her industry.
"When restrictions are lifted, I would love to return to overseas travel and gain some more experience in my trade."
Find out more
For more information about the Victorian Training Awards and to find out more about previous winners, visit the VTA web page.