Local TAFE students to showcase vocational training skills on world stage

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Five TAFE Queensland students are preparing to represent Australia in their respective study areas in Lyon, France at the 2024 WorldSkills International Competition, set to be the biggest skills competition ever with more than 1,500 competitors representing 75 countries.

Having been selected for the team – known as the Skillaroos – following their performances at the WorldSkills Australia National Championships in Melbourne last August, TAFE Queensland’s students will vie for international glory in the Electrical Installation, Fashion Technology, Cookery, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, and Restaurant Service categories.

Hailing from the Gold Coast are two of TAFE Queensland’s apprentices, Abbey Kuhnell and Dylan Redman, competing in the Cookery and Electrical Installation categories, respectively, after each taking home a gold medal from the 2023 National Championships.

They are joined by Sari Conte and Bailey Loenneker from the Sunshine Coast, competing in the Fashion Technology and Refrigeration and Air Conditioning categories, respectively, after their own successful trips to the National Championships.

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“I’m prepared to win, but if I don’t, what I’ve gained from the experience and extra tuition is a prize in itself,” Ms Conte says.

She is set to carry the same attitude into the competition in France – often considered the home nation of fashion.

Heading for a food-fuelled adventure

Rounding out the competitors representing TAFE Queensland and the nation is Elliana ‘Elli’ McRae from Brisbane, who took out gold in the Restaurant Service category at the National Championships and is looking forward to challenging herself against the world’s best.

Ms McRae has fulfilled her own prophecy from the weeks following her win at the National Championships, now packing her bags for mainland Europe and the call of international glory.

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“I want to explore hospitality and see what level I can get to because the industry has many different levels. I’ve heard Europe is the place to be for hospitality, so hopefully, I’ll get there one day and see what they have to offer,” she says.

Ms McRae told EducationDaily tha “this announcement means an incredible amount to me”.

“I pursued a career in a VET subject and, more specifically hospitality, as I love both the practical and customer-facing element of this industry,” she says.

“This love for interacting with people to enhance their dining experience is now taking me across the world. This news also truly highlights the importance of showcasing trade skill and the major importance it plays in not only Australia but internationally. This announcement should also bring hope to people that don’t have the desire to follow traditional pathways out of school – showing people that these pathways can also provide much career success.”

Her TAFE colleague Abbey Kuhnell told Education Daily the “announcement has proved to me that hard work and dedication pays off”.

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“I believe being a WorldSkills Skillaroo will give me confidence,” she says.

For her, growing up with a chef dad was a key ingredient in inspiring her culinary passions.

To get this far, she told EducationDaily she had to “compete in a regional competition and also a national, where I placed first in both but had to prove I was the right fit to compete for Australia with lots of training”.

“My goals for the next five years would be to get experience in as many different restaurants and cuisines as I can then take my knowledge and get into teaching the next generation of chefs,” Ms Kuhnell says.

Vocational training can offer students a world of opportunity

TAFE Queensland – SkillsTech General Manager Stephen Gates says TAFE Queensland has long been a strong supporter of WorldSkills Australia and is excited to see Queensland well represented again in this year’s Skillaroos team.

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“Vocational Education and Training forms an integral piece of the Australian education system, and this competition highlights the important role that skilled workers play in our industries and our communities across Australia,” Mr Gates says.

“TAFE Queensland provides quality training across many industries and strives to deliver the skilled workers that can lead Queensland’s economy for generations to come, and these highly skilled apprentices and students are key examples of the high-quality graduates produced at TAFE Queensland,” says Mr Gates.

Travelling with the Skillaroos will be a range of Skills Experts from across Australia, recognised as the foremost expert in their industry, and three TAFE Queensland teachers have been assigned this honour for this year’s competition in Lyon.

Elankayer Sithirasenan, Carl Balke, and Deborah Smith will be mentoring and supporting competitors in the Cloud Computing, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, and Restaurant Service categories, respectively, taking time away from their teaching duties at their home campuses in Coomera, South Bank, and Acacia Ridge.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live