Show goes on for 2020 HRATA Awards despite coronavirus challenges

Coronavirus restrictions didn’t stop the 2020 Hunter Region Area Training Awards (HRATA) from taking place this year.

Whereas normally in June each year 500 people would sit down to a three-course meal at NEX with presentations followed by live music, in 2020, due to social distancing requirements, the awards went virtual.

Finalists across the 12 major category areas were interviewed and filmed in the lead-up to a June 22 online presentation where results were announced.

Applicants, friends and families across the Hunter and Central Coast VET footprint tuned in from the comfort and socially distanced safety of their own homes at 6pm on the day to here the news, with over 10,000 views by lunchtime the day after the event.

A key motivation in pressing ahead with the awards despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 was the belief that ceremony, celebration and ritual are an essential rite of passage for participants in vocational education and training (VET)

Similar virtual presentations were held across the other nine regional areas that make up the framework of the NSW Training Awards.

These combined awards are conducted annually by Training Services NSW to recognise outstanding achievement in the vocational education and training sector and represent the biggest celebration of VET in Australia.

The regional awards lead into the NSW State Awards and winners from this, move into the national awards via the Australian Training Awards.

The Hunter is a distinguished supplier of VET, with over 15,000 apprentices and trainees in the Hunter/Central Coast area.

This training has never been more important as Australia battles a pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stated that the nation’s rebound will rely on vocational training, a skilled workforce and increased apprenticeships to lead the way out for economic recovery.

The Hunter has a proud tradition of opening up its businesses to become classrooms.

Traineeships and Apprenticeships provide a structured approach for young people to undertake formal learning and then practice their skills in a real world setting through paid work. They often become a pathway to higher learning and university degree programs.

HRATA executive coordinator Merran Wiggins and chairperson Michael Murray, who managed the event, extended their deep gratitude to the Great Northern Hotel which kindly offered its venue for free for the filming.

For any young person, studying and working while navigating adolescence can be challenging, but to be nominated for the HRATA awards, make it into the top three and perhaps be a winner – well, that needs to be celebrated.

HRATA organisers were amazed by the resilience and flexibility of participants who embraced the circumstances and gave it the sense of occasion it so rightly deserved.

One candidate was at home with wife and brand new baby when he was announced winner.

Another person found their boss had ordered a three-course meal be delivered to their home to be enjoyed during the presentation, while many others nominees held barbecues and parties to mark the occasion.

Hopefully the nation will have moved past the pandemic come this time next year, but HRATA remains committed as ever to do what it takes to foster and recognise the value of Vocational Education and Training in the Hunter region.

Originally published in The Newcastle Herald

Ampcontrol Testing Officer honoured with special industry training Award

Ampcontrol Testing Officer, Joshua French, has been awarded the prestigious Stan Rippon Award for Excellence in Trade at the 2020 NSW Training Awards – Hunter Region.

Recognising and celebrating the achievements of the best in vocational education and training in NSW, the 2020 Hunter Region Awards were announced during a Facebook Live ceremony on Monday 22 June.

Joshua French, a finalist in the Apprentice of the Year – Electrotechnology Certificate III category, received the highly regarded industry accolade for his dedication and excellence within his chosen vocational trade and commitment to career growth.

Commencing his Electrical Apprenticeship with Ampcontrol in 2016, Joshua is now employed fulltime in the Ampcontrol Electrical Testing Team at Tomago NSW.

Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to workplace skills and learning, Joshua has completed a Certificate III in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning and Certificate III in Electrotechnology both at TAFE NSW.

Validating his decision to commence a second apprenticeship in a different trade, Joshua said it was no walk in the park to begin a new apprenticeship.

“It certainly wasn’t easy to start a second Apprenticeship right after I finished the first one,” Joshua said.

“For me, I don’t look at this Award as being an individual achievement, it is more about group recognition as there are so many people that have helped me during my career – my family, friends, work mates, and my employer. This is also a recognition for them.”

The prestigious Award for Excellence In Trade honours the passion and tirelessly work of tradesman Stan Rippon in promoting vocational training in the Hunter Region.

Now retired, Stan holds the position of Vice-Chairperson of the Hunter Regional Apprenticeship and Traineeship Advisory Committee and remains committed to ensuring the region remains robust in the employment and training of our traditional tradesmen and women.

With a long-standing history of career development and engineering excellence in the Hunter region, Ampcontrol actively participates and supports industry, education, and community collaboration to provide students with dedicated pathways to STEM-related qualifications and local employment.

Ampcontrol Learning and Development Specialist, Mikhaila Halford, said the team were happy to hear the news of Joshua’s win and celebrate this well-earned achievement.

“We are thrilled for Joshua in receiving this incredible industry acknowledgment for all his ongoing hard work and commitment to his career development and role at Ampcontrol,” she said.

“We are always so proud to see our apprentices’ progress and move into fulltime positions within our business.”

Ampcontrol currently has 68 students participating in vocational education and training (VET) based roles in the areas of engineering, technology, electrical, mechanical, and manufacturing including 48 apprentices, 13 trainees, 6 workplace placements, and one school-based apprentice through the P-Tech Australia partnership program.

IMAGE | NSW Training Awards Stan Rippon Award for Excellence In Trade recipient, Joshua French from Ampcontrol.

Originally published in Hunter Headline

TAFE NSW Newcastle upskills Australian Border Force

With Australia relying on sea transport for 99% of exports* and
Newcastle being the world’s largest coal export port, it makes sense
that TAFE NSW Newcastle offers a wide range of maritime courses.

In fact, students travel from as far as the Ukraine to study here.

Many don’t realise TAFE NSW Newcastle is the only East Coast provider of the world’s highest seafarer qualification. The training students receive locally is recognised internationally as best-in-class.

Australian Border Force is well aware of the quality of education. A
handful of its locally-based marine unit officers have just begun
studying here, across Maritime Studies and Marine Engineering.

“Career seafarers travel from across the globe to our doorstep to
earn specialised maritime certifications such as Master and Watchkeeper
Deck,” TAFE NSW Newcastle Head Maritime Studies teacher, Glenn Hunter

“This includes law enforcement agency officers like those from the
Australian Border Force – seafarers who are tasked with protecting
Australia’s maritime domain.”

“TAFE NSW is well known globally for our high-quality teachers,
facilities and technology. That’s why students come from all over
Australia and from countries as far flung as Ukraine and Pakistan to
study here. More than 25 per cent of the 2018 students were from nations
other than Australia.”

“Our maritime studies qualifications, offered in partnership with the
University of Tasmania, are recognised internationally and enjoy a
solid reputation for authenticity. This is something several other
countries cannot attest to; many seafarers find their qualifications
aren’t recognised outside their own country so they need to become
certified elsewhere,” Mr. Hunter said.

Senior Australian Border Force Officer Scott Bickford is studying a
Diploma of Maritime Operations (Master Up to 500 GT), a qualification
that will upskill him to take command of larger vessels in the Border
Force fleet.

“This qualification will allow me to take command of a Cape Class
vessel or perform senior deck roles on the ABF’s largest patrol vessel, Ocean Shield
These assets play a critical role in the ABF’s capability to protect
Australia’s borders by detecting and deterring civil maritime security
threats,” Officer Bickford said.

“I am very much looking forward to having the skills and knowledge required to work on these bigger vessels.”

At the heart of the TAFE NSW qualification delivery is the maritime
craft simulator, which uses interactive technology to provide training
scenarios for masters, deck officers and engineering officers.

Its real-life contingency scenario planning via five wrap-around
vision channels lets potential skippers of boats of all sizes practice
extensively before they take to the seas in real life.

Mr. Hunter emphasises that the fidelity of the simulator is vital to
its ability to teach students, saying, “The simulator is so realistic
someone without their sea legs can get sick while in the room.”

“The real-life contingency scenario planning we offer is an accurate
representation of what you encounter when steering a ship in real-life.

“From the craft’s unique specifications, to the under and above water geography of ports around the world, to weather conditions and light at certain times of the day, plus unexpected emergencies and calls to change direction – it’s all there.”

Originally published in Hunter Headline

Hunter Leader | Rowan Cox

Executive Director, Atwea College (formerly WEA Hunter)

Not long after joining WEA Hunter’s Links to Learning team in 1999 her passion for education was sparked when she saw a logical approach to providing practical ways for young people to engage in education.

The result was the creation of the Alesco Senior College which has now seen more than 1,000 young people across the Hunter and Mid North Coast successfully complete high school studies.

This approach saw her progress through the organisation where she continued to identify niche markets and logical ways for people to engage in learning. In 2016, Cox was appointed Executive Director and continued, with the support of a volunteer board and staff of about 30 people, grow the not for profit organisation.

Today, the organisation employs 97 permanent staff plus dozens of part time tutors and experienced a 350% increase to income in just four years. In April 2019, Cox took the century old organisation into its next chapter by naming it Atwea College.

  • What makes a good leader?

I think there’s a couple of elements that make a good leader. I think consistency is really critical for good leadership. I think having a really clear vision of what it is that you’re trying to achieve as a leader, because if the leader doesn’t have a clear vision – how can we expect all the other team members to participate in that?

But I think clear vision balanced with a sense of humility is so important. I think it’s really critical that leaders are not afraid to have a conversation or a discourse where they might not always be right.

So I think a clear vision with humility is really important. And then along with the consistency is the setting clear expectations, remembering people are not psychic, that they do need to understand what it is that they’re trying to achieve. And so by bringing all of that together I think those elements make really strong leaders.

  • What do you believe has shaped your leadership style?

I think there’s been a couple of elements that have shaped my leadership style. I personally have a really strong need for developing respect and trust between those people who are working very closely together.

And I think that that then passes along to those who are within my team about having the mutual respect and developing trust between understanding that although my team members may not do everything the way I would do it, them actually achieving the outcome is the most important thing.

And it’s all right to let them go and to achieve the goal in the way that suits their needs best.

I think having the opportunity to be bold and try new things and to see them unfold and to see them work out has developed my leadership style around encouraging others to be bold and encouraging others to think outside the square.

But mostly I think what developed my leadership style has been the opportunity to be mentored by people in front of me who have helped tempo my very strong convictions with being able to see a way forward in a manner that helps other people come with that journey.

So my natural style is to be very strong in my convictions, and to rush at things and make things happen. But I’ve had the opportunity over the years to be mentored by some very successful business people and the leaders before me in the organisation that I’m with, whereby it helps me to see that rushing and making things happen just because I think that they’re a great idea doesn’t always mean that they’re going to come off the way that I see them.

So the opportunity to be mentored in good leadership and balancing those two elements together has been critical for the way I now develop and mentor other people in my organisation towards their leadership style.

  • What motivates and drives you?

The thing that motivates and drives me the most actually is not being tied by convention. I really like to challenge the shoes. I don’t really want to follow a path of we do things because it’s the way it should be done or it’s always being done this way.

I really like to find the logical answer to a problem and then enact that by doing what is necessary and what is logical and what is needed, but not necessarily being tied by them we should do it this way or it should look a certain way or it should be done a certain way, unless there’s an absolute need for that.

I think often in business and with the company as old as Atwea College we could get trapped in the this is the way it’s always been done or this is the way we should do something because we have a very long history and legacy. But my drive really is around finding ways to make things happen because they need to happen, not because they should happen.

  • What is one action or task you ensure you incorporate into your diary each week?

It’s something that I incorporate each week, but it’s something that I incorporate most days. And I think the most important thing for me is preparation time. If I have a meeting, an action, a task that needs to be done I need to make sure that I am calm and prepared and clear in my vision of what is happening.

So, having the preparation time for going into that is really important to me. Because if I go in flustered, if I go in not fully thinking about and not fully being present with what is happening in front of me – decisions and choices get made that either have to be reversed or redone or reconsidered, and it wastes everybody’s time.

So as the leader in our organisation it’s really critical to me that I allow not only the meeting time but the preparation time to go into it. So, that’s either writing a to-do list, making sure that the points that I need to know I’ve written down, or doing the pre-reading that’s required for that. So the preparation time for whatever is coming up is built into diary as much as I possibly can manage.

  • What local businessperson do you find inspiring?

I mean, there’s probably a couple that I find inspiring. When you work in not-for-profit like I do sometimes you’re inspired by those who have a very strong philanthropic thing and then you also have inspiration drawn from people who make good business decisions.

Probably the two that I would name as inspirational to what we do at Atwea College are people like Melissa Histon who’s the CEO and founder of Got Your Back Sister who works tirelessly to ensure that a certain group of our community are fully supported. And she puts in so much effort and so much strength of her vision into what they do all the time.

The other person is our Amber Bibby who works for State Training Services and is now the marketing, other state market manager. And she’s in Sydney at the moment, but she’s been a long-time mentor of mine about being a woman in business and in a traditionally male-oriented education sector and how to have conviction of your belief and to make those things happen.

So, two very strong women are probably the most inspirational. But they do sit on both sides of that not-for-profit business where one is very strong in the philanthropic and the other is very strong in the business.

Originally published in Hunter Headline

Bradley’s Journey to Work Through Indigenous Placement Program

The team at VERTO is constantly inspired by the ability of our Indigenous job seekers to overcome adversity, turn their lives around and find employment. Bradley Flick, 42, is one such person.

When Bradley came to VERTO in early 2018 he had been out of the workforce for almost seven years. Bradley had spent this time caring for his ill mother, and was keen to get back into work. As an Indigenous client, an opportunity arose for Bradley to apply for an employment program, Resourcing the Future, run by Diversity Dimensions in Partnership with Woolworths. This program involves matching potential employers and job seekers, allowing the two to work together for a period of time, with the aim of securing ongoing employment if there is a match. 

Woolworths has partnered with Diversity Dimensions to deliver a tailored approach to engage and employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders into their business and create meaningful and sustainable employment for the community.

In Bradley’s case, he undertook theoretical and practical training while completing work experience with Woolworths. Woolworths has been a huge supporter of the Diversity Dimensions program.

At the end of the program, Bradley was offered a part time paid position. He has now been a team member for five months and is loving his new role. “The program was great, and I now love going to work,” Bradley said.

Store Manager for Woolworths Bathurst City store, Michael Toholke said, “Bradley has shown great personal growth in his time employed with Woolworths. Brad came on board and was apprehensive about his ability to perform the tasks required, and how he would integrate himself into the team.

“Brad has cemented his position within the business during his time with us becoming a reliable, punctual and contributing member of our team. His desire to be successful in his role by seeking feedback and utilising the knowledge of those around him has helped us guide Brad to become the valued team member he is. Brad has taken the challenges of our business in his stride and continues to grow both personally and professionally,” Michael said.

VERTO’s Team Leader, Stacey Callan, said VERTO was proud to see Indigenous men in the local Bathurst community do themselves and their families proud.

“Bradley’s resilience, ability to get back into the workforce and to become financially independent is a credit to his strength of character,” Miss Callan said.

“I’m so proud to have been a part of his journey and to see him grow to be a role model for young Indigenous men in the local area.”

Woolworths also employed two other fantastic team members from the community with Bradley in the program. Store Manager for Woolworths Bathurst City store, Michael Toholke says both Halley Maree Kane and Stormy Rae Whalan are also excellent team members and are doing extremely well alongside Bradley.

For more information about the Australian Government’s jobactive program, or how the VERTO team can help you, call 1300 4 VERTO, visit or find us on Facebook.

Is sending your kid to uni really worth it?

Louise Roberts

As published in The Daily Telegraph, June 12, 2019 6:00pm

The dilemma of whether their child should pursue a university degree is front of mind for many Sydney parents with HSC mock exams on the horizon and career anxiety turning up a notch.

But it’s not just the exorbitant cost involved.

I’m convinced that uni education should now come with a warning — don’t expect your time here to prepare you for life. Or a job.

There’s no doubt our halls of higher learning have suffered some serious reputational damage, must of it self-inflicted.

Only last week this newspaper revealed that some Sydney Uni students are campaigning to tear down a statue of William Wentworth — a pioneer of this great city who came from convict stock — because he is a “known racist”.

Wednesday night, on Sky News, Sydney University student Will Jeffries explained how “equity officers’ were crucifying debate in the classroom to the point where students had to state their pronouns (I’m she or her for the record) before stating their arguments.

When I think of my 15-year-old son’s education going forward, I often recall his first day of school.

Dressed in scratchy poly-cotton uniform and top-heavy with a backpack, he stood before me so excited that my heart swelled as I saw his educational future stretching out before him as a glorious highway of opportunity.

Just think what they’ll be when they grow up, you daydream while cutting another cheese and Vegemite sandwich.

A few scraped knees, maths tests and swimming carnivals later and like me, you now identify as a high school parent.

And that’s when the fear sets in. After HSC, what’s next?

A university degree, yes that’s it. The marker of achievement. Well done, instant and continual employment to follow. Right? Not so fast.

Lately, my fellow parents and I are having conversations of a different vein with our teenagers, our sons to be specific.

They are raising with us — rather than us with them — the issue of employability and relevance with a BA or some such after their name.

Or as my son asks: how do you know that the debt acquired and time spent at university will get you a job?

A valid point requiring a deep-rooted re think of how we used to worship the concept of university education.

Perhaps it’s time for an overhaul so our kids are incentivised also consider vocational education — plumbing, electrician or building — before tackling the traditional white collar degree with an eye towards a profession like law, medicine, or banking.

We are churning out kids from a system driven by student demand.

Degree ticked off, the belief is they will be able to secure roles in their chosen field. Tertiary education should meet the needs of industry rather than training as many students as possible on a conveyor belt to career oblivion.

But that is not happening, of course.

The Federal Government surveyed more than 120,000 university graduates last year. Pharmacy (97.2 per cent) and medicine (94.9 per cent) degrees had the best job prospects. They are the exception.

Creative arts graduates were at the bottom with only 52.2 per cent full-time employment in the short term.

Anecdotally, I’m being told people involved in hiring panels are saying they don’t actually want to talk to these uni kids any more. “The quality is miserable, I’d rather someone from the real world that hasn’t gone through all that nonsense.”

Sobering, isn’t it?

Yet Gary Workman, Executive Director of Apprentice Employment Network which employs over 30,000 apprentices and trainees says that there is still a stigma attached to trade.

Kids in year 9 and 10 who are ‘pushed’ towards plumbing, carpentry, and the like are made to feel they are not smart enough despite 95 per cent of trade graduates being hired full time, he says.

However in Europe, and especially Switzerland, from year 9 they do a school based apprenticeship plus traditional subjects so they leave school with practical and academic skills plus a trade qualification. A gift to employers, illustrated by youth unemployment rate of two per cent compared to ours which can be as high as 25 per cent in some areas.

Going to uni does not future proof your kids, no matter their aspirations or yours.

Part of the problem is career advisers who have been to uni themselves, and for whom higher education is the path they are comfortable talking about.

Workman says: “The automotive industry is overlooked by career advisers because we don’t manufacture cars here anymore even though there’s plenty of future-proofed jobs like autonomous cars, such as 3D printing and so on.”

“Parents need to be realistic — focus on what practical skills your kids can learn rather than prestige degrees.”

“Kids are being pushed to university thinking that is the panacea for life after school and aged 23 or 24 wondering why they can’t get a job.”

I have a colleague whose son is planning a uni course in materials science and engineering but at age 17 is savvy enough to recognise the value of getting a trade qualification — in this case welding.

His father says that coming from a family of middle-class professional degree holders, the idea was initially shocking, until his son explained his logic.

“He said that way he would have money to go to university, and a skill, and understand what he was doing when he went to uni.”

“He said the thing that worried him was friends going to university for arts degrees who won’t necessarily be able to get a job and he just didn’t want to have to have that problem.”

The question for you and me as parents is this: Would you rather your child get a degree that you can brag about and potentially be unemployed or be out actually learning and using a skill that’s going to be in demand so he or she will likely always have a job?

Our children deserve that answer — and in their interest, not ours.

New $4,000 employer incentive just announced

Effective 1 July 2019, the Australian Government’s $4,000 Additional Identified Skills Shortage (AISS) Payment is available to eligible employers taking on new apprentices in areas of identified national skills shortages.

What does this mean for you?

This means when you take on an eligible new apprentice, not only could you be eligible for $4,000 in standard Government financial incentives, but you may also be able to claim a further $4,000 under the AISS Payment!

Through the AISS Payment scheme, eligible employers will receive:

  • $2,000 payable 12 months from the commencement date of the apprenticeship, and
  • $2,000 payable at the completion of the apprenticeship

To be eligible, your Australian Apprentice must be a new worker* undertaking a Certificate III or IV level qualification leading to an occupation on the AISS Payment list:

  • Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Mechanics
  • Arborists
  • Bakers and Pastrycooks
  • Bricklayers and Stonemasons
  • Carpenters and Joiners
  • Hairdressers
  • Plasterers
  • Plumbers
  • Vehicle Painters
  • Wall and Floor Tilers

More info from MEGT here.

Message from HunterNet | NSW Training Awards Hunter Region Winners Announced

Message from HunterNet | NSW Training Awards Hunter Region Winners Announced

On Friday 21 June 2019, Training Services NSW hosted the NSW Training Awards Hunter Region at NEX Newcastle.  

Following a rigorous application process, three of HunterNet Group Training’s employees were shortlisted as finalists for the awards, with one employee taking out overall winner in his category.  

Stephanie Peacock was nominated for Vocational Student of the Year. Stephanie is currently studying a Diploma in Business, following the successful completion of a Certificate III Traineeship of Business and a Certificate IV of Business. 


Nick Majurovski was awarded Trainee of the Year, Hunter Region Certificate IV in Leadership and Management. In addition to his Certificate IV, Nick has completed a Certificate III in Business Administration.  

Nick was also awarded Trainee of the Year 2018 at last year’s HunterNet Chairman’s Awards.  

Tayla Wiebe was also nominated for Trainee of the YearTayla started her career with HunterNet Group Training studying a Certificate III in Business and has progressed onto a Diploma in Leadership and Management.  

Tayla was awarded the Outstanding Achiever: Trainee at the HunterNet Chairman’s Awards 2018.  

Rebecca Ryan, Workforce Development Manager at HunterNet Group Training, said that each of the finalists have demonstrated exceptional customer service skills and a commitment to their training.  

“Stephanie, Nick and Tayla consistently work to the highest standards, inspiring other members of their team to do the same,” Ms Ryan said.  

“They are all dedicated to supporting their fellow team members and serving customers to the best of their abilities. They consistently demonstrate a positive attitude at work, which has rubbed off on their colleagues.”  

“This is a fantastic achievement for Stephanie, Nick and Tayla and a testament to the hard work they’re doing,” Nick Couper, the General Manager of HunterNet Group Training said.

“We see on a daily basis how well our apprentices and trainees are performing, and we’re excited we can share this with the wider community,” Mr. Couper continued.

We congratulate Stephanie, Nick, Tayla and all the award nominees for their achievements.

Jacquie Warren  

Administration Manager – HunterNet 

On behalf of the members of HunterNet


IMAGE | Nick Couper, General Manager of HunterNet Group Training at the NSW Training Awards Hunter Region held on 21 June.  

Regional Development Australia (RDA) – Hunter’s STEMship program has been recognised as international best practice.

Regional Development Australia (RDA) - Hunter's STEMship program has been recognised as international best practice.

Jonathan Barr, head of Employment and Skills Unit at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) made the announcement on 9 April at the STEM Workforce Conference in Newcastle.

Mr Barr launched a new OECD Report, ‘Engaging employers and developing skills at the local level in Australia’. According to Mr Barr, STEMship provides an outstanding example of how local partnerships between regional development organisations, industry, and the TAFE sector can encourage more apprenticeship training.

The STEMship program is supported by DPC Regional, Defence NSW and Training Services. 

“The program provides pre-employment training for secondary school graduates to enter apprenticeships as an alternative to university, leading to a full qualification at Certificate III,” said Mr Barr. “By working closely with employers in STEM-related fields to drive curriculum development, this program was able to identify the necessary skills and align training design with local industry demands in new and emerging occupations to prepare for jobs of the future”.

 View the report, here