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People's Choice Awards

The People’s Choice Awards are open to finalists from individual sponsored categories. They're decided in the lead up to the prizewinning ceremony by online public voting.

To sponsor a People’s Choice Award, contact Janine Doney:

2019 Awards

The People’s Choice Award for Apprenticeship of the Year is proudly presented by MEGT.

Winner - Amber Gabelich

Certificate III in Automotive Refinishing Technology 
Riviera Panels

A passion for cars and a strong creative bent have led Amber Gabelich to excel in her journey to become a custom spray painter. Placed first and third in the regional and national WorldSkills Championships, she went on to win the 2018 BBM Youth Support Award, gaining her a ticket to the US to continue her studies. Amber wants to be a role model for other female tradespeople because it’s ‘hard yakka’. She believes that if females like her continue to aspire to excellence it will help to shift perspectives and encourage more women to explore career options that are traditionally male-dominated.

Finalist - Jake Carter

Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician 
Design and Build Electrical

 On the verge of making a career change from finance to studying for an electrical pre-apprenticeship, Jake Carter discovered his partner was expecting their first child. Despite the drop in pay and unknown job prospects that would eventuate, Jake made the ‘big and risky’ decision to forge ahead. With his new responsibilities increasing his motivation and determination to succeed, Jake completed his studies in three, rather than the customary four years. Further accelerating his career while completing a Diploma of Electrical Project Management at Melbourne Polytechnic, Jake has started his own business while sub-contracting to Design and Build Electrical. He credits Holmesglen’s Futuretech for laying the foundation for his success.

Finalist - Daniel Fortune

Certificate III in Parks & Gardens 
Sacred Heart College, Kyneton

Daniel Fortune has always loved gardening, but with a solid job as a postman and three children to support, he had to think carefully about making his dream his career. Finally, despite finding the idea of going back to study ‘horribly intimidating’ he began a Certificate III in Parks and Gardens at Bendigo TAFE and soon distinguished himself as an award-winning student. Now working full time at Sacred Heart College and loving the opportunity to create peaceful garden spaces, Daniel knows he made the right choice for himself and his family. His message to others: ‘there are always chances to improve yourself – anybody can do it at any age!’

You can read the bios of previous People’s Choice Award winners and finalists below.

2018 Awards

Winners of the 2018 People’s Choice Awards were announced at the VTA gala dinner on 24 August. They were presented with their awards by Gill Callister, Secretary, Department of Education and Training.

Apprentice of the Year

Winner - Alyssa Heard

From an early age, Alyssa Heard knew that she wanted to be a chef. She started on her journey aged 15, working in hospitality as a waitress to earn extra money. When the head chef discovered Alyssa’s passion for cooking, she took her under her wing and offered her an apprenticeship. Alyssa enrolled in a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery and won several awards.

The course generated a dramatic change in Alyssa’s views on food. Now she’s passionate about the creation of fresh, slow food that’s been made with love. Her love of baking has seen her embark on a Certificate III in Patisserie and eventually Alyssa plans to have her own business.

Teacher/Trainer of the Year

Winner - Wendy Lever-Henderson

For Wendy Lever-Henderson, the teaching of certificates in community services and case management is as much about the student’s personal development as it is about their knowledge and skills. Wendy is a senior educator. Many of her students have experienced life challenges. To help them be job-ready, she makes decisions driven by their needs and perspectives.

This might mean altering timetables to meet student requirements and introducing online and night classes. Wendy’s passionate about developing and expanding community services and aims to inspire her students to have a positive impact on other people’s lives. Her flexible approach to learning has doubled diploma graduate numbers. 

Apprentice of the Year

Finalist - Matthew Shipard

In the time it takes to finish one trade, Matthew Shipard completed two certificates in engineering, mechanical and fabrication, and gained dual trade qualifications. Matthew thrives on hard work and is committed to excellence, no matter what the job is. After seeing a complex machining job known as a cube in a cube in a cube, Matthew decided to design and make one.

His TAFE teacher said it would be too hard. Regardless, he figured out the measurements, made specialised lathe tools, and completed it. Matthew’s passion is metalworking, which he’s pursuing as a career, however he’s dedicated to expanding his skills by studying a Diploma in Engineering.

Finalist - Breanna Szitarity

Breanna Szitarity began her working life as a beauty therapist but found that she needed more stimulation. Now completing a Certificate III in Plumbing through the Master Plumbers’ Association—Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria, she has discovered that plumbing suits her because it’s so multifaceted. Breanna immersed herself in learning, accelerated it, and sat the Journeyman's registration six months early.

The apprenticeship taught her resilience and how to think outside the box to solve problems. Breanna has been well prepared to become a competent, confident plumber and her host employer has offered her full-time employment. Breanna’s positive experience has led her to being a big advocate for encouraging women into trades.

Teacher/Trainer of the Year

Finalist - Anne-Marie Banfield

Anne-Marie Banfield is passionately committed to overcoming the chronic health conditions rife in Aboriginal communities. As a regional Aboriginal health practitioner and educator, Anne-Marie has a variety of interlinking roles that focus on wellbeing, mental health and community services in remote populations. What gives her the leading edge is her expertise in technology.

She devises innovative instructional methods and online learning platforms that are applied to nurturing a community of learning. Her approach has achieved significant increases in student engagement, completion rates and learning satisfaction. Anne-Marie believes education is crucial for our indigenous people in respect of health and social determinants.

Finalist - Sarah Whitling

Being a trainer at Wodonga Institute of TAFE gives Sarah Whitling the opportunity to share her passion and skills with young people who are beginning their journey into the culinary arts. She’s particularly enthusiastic about creating opportunities for marginalised groups, especially Aboriginal, ESL and disadvantaged youth.

Approximately 90 per cent of Sarah’s Indigenous students have a variety of special needs. In response she developed a method of training that was both practical and culturally relevant, leading to a Certificate II in Kitchen Operations for Aboriginals. Dedicated to providing the highest grade of training available, Sarah invites local, national and international chefs to work alongside her students and apprentices.

2018 Sponsors 

The Apprentice of the Year People’s Choice Award is proudly supported by the Australian Brick and Blocklaying Training Foundation Ltd (ABBTF). The Teacher/Trainer of the Year People’s Choice Award is proudly supported by Business Skills Viability (BSV).

2017 Awards

Apprentice of the Year

Winner - Grace Jamieson

Certificate III in Light Vehicle Mechanical Technology 
Training Provider: Bendigo Kangan Institute 
Employment: Service Technician at Tesla

While studying a Bachelor of Law/Commerce at Deakin University, Grace Jamieson realised what she really wanted to be was a mechanic. She had always been interested in cars from a distance. Buying her first car a Nissan Skyline strengthened her interest in mechanics, and she enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship course Certificate II in Automotive Studies (Mechanical) at Bendigo Kangan Institute (BKI) to get a taste of what studying mechanics would be like, and to increase her chances of an apprenticeship offer. She gained an apprenticeship with South Yarra BMW, and returned to BKI to study a Certificate III in Light Vehicle Mechanical Technology. In 2016 she was named BMW Apprentice of the Year.

To watch Grace's story, see: Grace Jamieson's story.

To read more about Grace's story see:

Grace Jamieson's finalist fact sheet

Finalist - Jeremy Connell

Certificate III in Engineering 
Training Provider: Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE

Employment: Fitter and Machinist at Wangaratta Engineering

During high school, Jeremy Connell was almost certain he wanted to pursue a career in mechanical engineering, and a week of work experience at Wangaratta Engineering left him with no doubt. When Jeremy went back to Wangaratta Engineering to ask if they would be his host employer under the School-Based Apprenticeship and Traineeship (SBAT) program, they said yes on the spot. Later the company offered him a full apprenticeship, but he wanted to finish Year 12, and they held a position open for him. Jeremy has completed Certificate III Engineering with Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE and is working as a fully qualified fitter and machinist at Wangaratta Engineering.

To watch Jeremy's story, see Jeremy Connell's story(opens in a new window).

To read more about Jeremy's story, see:

Jeremy Connell's finalist fact sheet

Finalist - Matthew Soderstrom

Certificate III in Carpentry 
Training Provider: Box Hill Institute 
Employment: Carpenter at Istrom Homes Pty Ltd

When Matthew Soderstrom left school he completed a commerce degree at Monash University, and later became an Auditor at KPMG. Throughout his childhood, Matthew had always admired his father as a builder, and at age 28 he realised he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. As an apprentice enrolled in Certificate III Carpentry at Box Hill Institute, Matthew’s host employer is his father’s company, Istrom Homes Pty. Ltd. Matthew says building and construction not only provides him with a sense of personal fulfilment, it also injects something of value into society. Matthew has plans to become a Registered Building Practitioner, train young tradespeople and build a company with an emphasis on good communication and quality workmanship.

To watch Matthew's story, see  Matthew Soderstrom's story(opens in a new window).

To read more about Matthew's story, see:

Matthew Soderstrom's finalist fact sheet