Chelsea on a path to success

Fiona McInnes didn’t take much convincing when her daughter, Chelsea, came home from school and said she wanted to do a school-based traineeship. With a handful of TAFE NSW qualifications to her name, Fiona understands the value of vocational education better than most. What Fiona didn’t realise was that Chelsea’s decision would set her on a path to winning the NSW Training Awards and beyond.

Image: Fiona McKinnon with her award winning daughter Chelsea

On 1 November 2021, Chelsea McInnes was crowned the NSW School Based Apprentice/Trainee for 2021. It was a well-deserved win for the student from Alstonville High School, and one that caps a remarkable couple of years for Chelsea.

In the last six months alone, Chelsea has won the regional and state rounds of the NSW Training Awards, finished her school-based traineeship ahead of schedule, started a full-time job and, as if that wasn’t enough, successfully completed her HSC.

It’s a pretty impressive list of achievements by anyone’s standards, so when we dropped in on the NSW Training Awards Professional Development Week in Sydney recently, we were curious to hear what Chelsea’s mum had to say about her daughter’s recent run of success.

“This is the bit where I start to cry,” said Fiona, when we asked how she felt about Chelsea winning the NSW title and advancing to the Australian Training Awards.

The pride on Fiona’s face was plain to see as she spoke lovingly of Chelsea’s passion for food, her affinity with people, and her connection to their local community on the NSW North Coast. Listening to Fiona speak left us with the distinct impression that Chelsea’s recent achievements were meant to be.

“Chelsea loved cooking from the outset,” said Fiona, recalling her daughter’s early experimentation in the kitchen.

Fast-forward 10 years and that passion was still burning bright when Chelsea discovered that she could combine her love of cooking with vocational training and paid work through a School Based Apprenticeship or Traineeship (SBAT). Chelsea jumped at the chance to enrol in an SBAT, which involved completing a Certificate II in Hospitality through TAFE NSW and working at Trident Fish & Grill, a popular local eatery owned by former Alstonville High School student, Christian Photiou. Lucky for Chelsea, her mum couldn’t have been more supportive.

“I just thought it was a brilliant opportunity,” said Fiona. “Chelsea was always adamant that she wanted to do Year 12, but the SBAT allowed her to do both – finish her HSC and get a vocational qualification as well.”

The benefits of combining vocational education and training (VET) and employment are well-known to readers of these pages – you get to try out a pathway while still at school, gain a qualification or a head-start on an apprenticeship or post-school training, and earn a bit of money at the same time. But the benefits of being nominated for the Training Awards might be less well known.

Image: Chelsea McInnes - NSW School Based Apprentice/Trainee for 2021

When we caught up with Chelsea, she was four days into a week of intensive professional development. The schedule was jam-packed with workshops on everything from media training to mindfulness.

“Having the opportunity to do all of this is just crazy,” said Chelsea. “I’ve grown a lot through this process.”

Thanks to some local media attention, Chelsea has also become something of a celebrity in Alstonville, a tight-knit community of 5,000 people on the North Coast.

“I’ve had people come up to me on the street – people I don’t know – and say ‘I’m so proud of you.’”

Fiona has had similar experiences, both with strangers and people closer to home. As it turns out, Chelsea works with two of her little brother’s best mates at Trident Fish & Grill, both of whom have become keen advocates for VET. According to Fiona, that enthusiasm has rubbed off on her son Brendan, who is now weighing his own VET options.

“Brendan has always been my academic,” says Fiona. “He’s interested in science and astronomy, but these opportunities are fantastic, so you never know.”

As for Chelsea, she knows exactly what’s in store for the year ahead. Chelsea will step into a management role at Trident next year and work towards a Business Management qualification through TAFE NSW. If the past two years are anything to go by, we’d be surprised if she didn’t ace both.

Editor’s note: If you’d like to learn more about Chelsea’s journey, be sure to check out Episode 6 of EPPP TV and this story about her win at the regional round of the NSW Training Awards.

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