25 March 2024

TAFE students put their skills to the test to win gold in international competition

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Hairdresser washing a woman's hair.

Towradgi hairdresser Hannah Gerritsen is off to the WorldSkills International Championships in France. Photo: Supplied.

Two Illawarra students and one from the Shoalhaven are among nine young Australians who will be showing off their trade skills on the world stage later this year.

Hairdresser Hannah Gerritsen from Towradgi, Wollongong bricklayer Ethan Everett and Bomaderry industrial mechanic Michael Bowen will be representing their country in the WorldSkills International Championships in France in September.

The team, known as the Skillaroos, will test their skills against competitors from more than 75 countries.

Competitions are designed by industry and skills experts who assess an individual’s knowledge, practical competence, and employability skills against a set of strict criteria.

The TAFE NSW Skillaroo team members are at the top of their training in disciplines such as automotive technology, bakery, beauty therapy, bricklaying, construction metal work, hairdressing, health and social care, industrial mechanics and welding.

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Hannah studies at West Wollongong TAFE and works at Belinda’s Hair Creations.

From a young age, she would watch online tutorials and then practise new techniques on friends and family.

Despite sceptics who questioned her decision to leave school for an apprenticeship, Hannah has not swayed from her chosen path, supported by her parents and mentors in the industry.

“My personal goal was to make it to nationals [National WorldSkills Championships] and finish every task given, no matter the outcome, and winning was a bonus,” she said of last year’s national competition.

“I plan to have this same mindset for Lyon – to produce work that my supporters and I can be proud of.”

Like the Olympics, WorldSkills Australia competition activity begins at the grassroots level, in competitions held in one of 34 regions around Australia. Students progress by competing at national and international levels, in front of more than 200,000 people.

Ethan was also successful in winning gold at the national competition.

Two men, one holding a gold medal.

Troy Everett congratulates his son Ethan, who won a gold medal at the National WorldSkills Championships. Photo: Supplied.

“Winning the national competition was very, very hard work, but in turn the most rewarding and special moment in my career to date,” he said.

Ethan, who works with City Bricklaying, was inspired to enter the trade by his father Troy, who is also a seasoned WorldSkills judge and volunteer.

Now Ethan aspires to be a WorldSkills ambassador and ignite a similar passion in other young tradespeople.

Ethan paid tribute to his mentor, Andrew Hosking, who he said had been instrumental in refining his technique and instilling the philosophy to “fight for every single millimetre”.

Bomaderry industrial mechanics student Michael Bowen, who works for QinetiQ Air Affairs, is another member of the Skillaroos.

His first encounter with the world of industrial mechanics was during a TAFE NSW open day and since then, he hasn’t looked back.

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“WorldSkills has really pushed me to advance my skills in many areas,” Michael said.

“Some of the hardest obstacles encountered are in the training processes, however these problems remind me of my goals.”

NSW Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education Minister Steve Whan congratulated the team members and said the championships would provide the students, all from regional areas, with amazing and potentially life-changing learning opportunities.

“Their selection for the Australian team speaks volumes of their dedication to their course and the high-quality support from their TAFE NSW teachers,” he said.

WorldSkills Australia CEO Trevor Schwenke said the calibre of talent in the team was second to none.

“Their skills, positive attitude, and professionalism is inspiring, and we wish them all the best when they head to France and fly the flag for Aussie skills.

“We have team members who have made sacrifices in their personal lives and had to overcome adversity to be crowned the best in their skill and profession. As hopeful as we are that the team will bring home gold, they’re already winners.”

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