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Two outstanding TAFE NSW students from the Hunter have been shortlisted alongside the best of their vocational education and training peers after a panel of expert judges narrowed down the field to name the 2017 NSW Training Awards finalists.
Port Stephens Council’s Reece Arday, 23, is a finalist for the NSW Trainee of the Year, while Jackson Harvey, 18, from Belmont North is a finalist for the NSW School Based Apprentice or Trainee of the Year.
Mr Arday studied a business administration traineeship with Port Stephens Council and completed a Certificate IV in Business Services at TAFE NSW Maitland. Upon completing his traineeship he was offered a full-time role in the council’s IT department as an information and communications technology systems administrator.
Port Stephens Council’s Business Systems Support Section Manager, Zoe Pattison, said the organisation worked closely with trainees to identify the most appropriate provider to complete their off-the-job training component to best suit their career aspirations.
“In Reece's case this was TAFE NSW,” Ms Pattison said. “Its experience and flexibility to meet our needs were second to none. We've consistently found that TAFE NSW is actually much more than a provider – it is a true partner in developing our staff and that's an environment that Reece has really excelled in.” 
Ms Pattison said it became clear early on in Mr Arday’s traineeship that he was extremely self-motivated and willing to take on as many opportunities to grow professionally.
“As leaders, it's our job to help people be the best they can and it is heart-warming to see Reece grow and flourish.  Watching him get this level of recognition is extremely rewarding and it's lovely to see him feel, quite justifiably, proud of himself for taking advantage of the opportunities available to him,” she said.
Mr Arday is a big believer in vocational education training and the doors it can open for people at any stage of their career. After completing year 12, he started a business degree at university but dropped out to pursue a construction apprenticeship during which he was paid while learning.
“I’d always seen myself eventually working in a business-type role,” Mr Arday said. “I never wanted to be on the tools forever. When I was working in my trade I was the guy on site who was good with computers so when I saw the opportunity to do a traineeship with Port Stephens Council I jumped at it.
“In school I was a smart kid and the mentality is that you go to university, but I think apprenticeships and traineeships should be promoted more. Going through this pathway meant that I was paid by my employer to work while I learnt at TAFE NSW and when I finished I came out with years of experience working in the industry.
“When doing a traineeship or apprenticeship your employer and TAFE NSW teachers provide you with the right support and opportunities to help you maintain your focus and succeed in your studies.” 
After completing his Business Administration traineeship and qualifications at TAFE NSW Maitland, Mr Arday enrolled in the training provider’s online Diploma of Information Technology to assist him in his IT support job with the council.
“Working in IT is really interesting because it never gets stagnant, technology is always changing and you can learn something new every day,” he said. “VET and TAFE NSW are very important for the IT industry in particular, the courses are regularly updated with the latest in the industry, which allows you to constantly renew your skills and knowledge.”
Mr Arday grew up in Raymond Terrace and has recently purchased his first home in Macquarie Hills, an achievement he says wouldn’t have been possible this early on in his career without the opportunity to earn while learning. 
Meanwhile, Mr Harvey has also been named one of three finalists from across the state for the 2017 NSW School Based Apprentice or Trainee of the Year Award. 
Mr Harvey is currently completing a School Based Traineeship in Nursing with Hunter New England Health​ (HNE Health) as part of his Higher School Certificate (HSC) studies at Belmont High. The two-year program, a partnership between TAFE NSW and HNE Health, enables trainees to complete industry-recognised Certificate III in Health Services Assistance qualifications as part of their year 11 and 12 studies while working one day per week in the healthcare industry.
The winners of the 2017 NSW Training Awards will be announced in Sydney on Thursday 7 September.