Amanda Smith on training and the community

Amanda Smith, WA and Australian Trainer of the Year 2011, is a hospitality lecturer in the South West. Amanda’s successful training programs such as the ‘Paddock to Plate’ initiative integrate industry, employers and farmers. Here Amanda tells us about how the program continues to influence students and demonstrates the impact valuable training can have on the broader community.


‘Paddock to Plate’ seeks to give students a true appreciation and understanding of local and regional produce, telling the stories behind the food and how it makes it to the table.

This specialised foods unit came about as I felt our second year apprentice chefs were perhaps too familiar working with food which was already processed: arriving in their kitchens picked, pressed, slaughtered, sliced or packaged.

The unit is highly practical in its nature, encompassing field trips to meet with farmers, foragers, olive oil experts, truffle growers, sheep’s milk cheese producers and aquaculture marron producers who are generous with time and knowledge.

Talking to farmers and producers means the students respect and understanding of regional produce has improved.  For many students it is the first time they have spoken with producers at the grass roots level; it is great to witness the farmers’ passion for their product and the students’ unfolding appreciation.  Many questions are asked and new relationships are forged.  This promotes a robust understanding of a range of concepts around ethical production, sustainability factors, product costs versus large scale or industrial practices and ability to educate through shared food knowledge.

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Last year we worked with free range pig farmer Nigel Lovejoy. Nigel is from a generation of local farming families with a wide and diverse knowledge of the area. The students engaged with him on farming and pig rearing, including the pigs’ family life and genetics, sustainability, slaughter practices and differences between shed reared and free range pigs. They got to drive around the farm paddocks and feed the sow families with their two week old piglets at foot. These engaging experiences offer context of place and ability to interact with live animals and seek farming knowledge.

At Olio Bello organic olive oil farm, the students speak with an olive oil expert, have a guided tasting and watch a pressing of olives.  The students have an opportunity to taste the unfiltered Nuovo (new) oil taken from the press directly as it is milled, an experience that is not usually available for the general  public.  The new oil exhibits a raw and intense flavour profile and is unlike any other tasting, directly from product to palate.

Many chefs are aware of the paddock to plate unit for their apprentices and support the students learning. The ability in the training kitchen to experiment with produce and flavour profiles of produce from different field trips are showcased by the students in a long table lunch held at the end of the unit.

Paddock to Plate filters through regional community, chefs and producers, inspiring further knowledge and experiences for trainers and students alike.

A benefit of regional food knowledge is being tasked with looking after all celebrity chefs main stage demonstrations at the annual Margaret River Gourmet Escape event.  International chefs enjoy learning about our produce and utilising it in their event dishes.  Students help with the preparation and get to meet many of their food heroes.

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Many of my students also volunteer at Truffle Kerfuffle – an annual celebration of all things truffle in Manjimup in late June, working alongside chefs with regional produce master classes, lunch and dinner events.

Winning the WA Training Award and the Australian Training Award as a VET chef lecturer allowed me to go on a foodie trip of a lifetime to France.  The visits I organised culminated in a broad range of experiences and knowledge I use in my classes today. Particularly, the knowledge and concepts surrounding regional, artisanal produced food like cheeses, bakery products and chocolate as well as seasonal produce such as meats, charcuterie and vegetables. I also visited culinary schools in both Paris and London and learnt new skills. These experiences provided me with a strong knowledge base and inspiration for students to explore their working career through travel and culture.

The winner of the WA Trainer of the Year 2016 will receive a $5000 training grant from Training Accreditation Council to further their skills and knowledge in their industry and develop their training practices. Programs like Amanda Smith’s Paddock to Plate, continue to inspire the WA Training Awards judges and we look forward to meeting this year’s semi-finalists.  Find out more about the WA Training Awards at


Making the most of your WA Training Awards experience

The WA Training Awards program provides applicants with an exceptional professional development experience. Our winners come out of the program with a variety of skills and knowledge they can use in their careers, further study opportunities and within their organisations.

Application writing and interview skills

Learning how to write a competitive application and following it up with a positive interview is a great professional skill for young people to develop. For many WA Training Awards applicants, this may be their first application or interview. Throughout the process, the WA Training Awards team provides information and guidance on application writing and interview skills to help prepare applicants for the process and better inform them for future opportunities.

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Public speaking

The Awards offers individuals an opportunity to share their story at a State and national level. Public speaking is a large part of that. From presenting to their judging panel and accepting their Award at the Presentation Dinner, individuals can develop their public speaking skills for future events and presentations.

Increasing your industry knowledge

The WA Training Awards connect applicants with the training councils and opens up networking opportunities for people to increase their industry knowledge, gain a better understanding of current trends and issues and understand where their industry fits within the larger WA and Australian workforce context.

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Opportunity to look holistically at your organisation

Many WA Training Awards organisation applicants comment that simply going through the process has allowed them an opportunity to recognise what their organisation is doing well and where they can make improvements to better serve their industry, students and employees.

Celebrating your achievements

For individuals and organisations, it’s important to sit back and recognise what you have achieved, what you’ve done well and celebrate that. The WA Training Awards program encourages applicants to put their achievements in the spotlight and celebrate them.

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Networking opportunity

The WA Training Awards opens up a networking opportunity for individuals and organisations to make connections with like-minded people and build relationships with potential clients or collaborators.

Constructive feedback

Feedback is offered after both assessment stages. Our feedback process includes what was positive and what could be improved upon. We encourage all applicants to get feedback on their application and performance in order to help them in their future endeavours.

Every experience is what you make of it. We congratulate all of our applicants on taking the first step and submitting an application this year. Regardless of which stage in the competition you progress to, there are great opportunities to learn along the way.

For more information about the WA Training Awards program visit

Ambassadors at the Training Providers Forum

The Training Providers Forum is WA’s leading forum on training and workforce development. Held over two days on 30 and 31 May 2016, the forum was attended by over 350 trainers, representatives and industry decision makers from private training providers, TAFE, industry training councils, schools, universities and government departments.

Each year, several WA Training Awards ambassadors attend the Training Providers Forum; an opportunity that allows our ambassadors to network with training professionals and inspire the audience with their stories and training journeys. This year Sandra Van Der Gaag – WA and Australian Trainee of the Year 2015, Jared Stone – WA and Australian Apprentice of the Year 2015 and Taylor Wood – WA School-based Apprentice of the Year 2014 and runner-up Australian School-based Apprentice of the Year 2014 participated in the Training Providers Forum.

“I was excited to be asked to speak at the WA Training Providers Forum. It’s a venue where real change can happen and I was pleased that the forum wanted to hear from students about our experiences and our training journey. Too many people still think that if you want to be a professional then you have to go to university. VET has a number of training pathways that can lead to management positions and professional career paths in corporate and industry roles,” said Sandra Van Der Gaag.

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Jared, Sandra and Taylor took part in a valuable panel discussion on Student perspectives of VET and what can be done to improve the student experience.

“The panel was a great way to see diversity between the different pathways that vocational education and training has to offer. There needs to be major change in the VET sector in regards to how people view the training. I believe it starts with schools. We need to educate people more about the VET sector, from there we expand out to parents and the wider community,” said Taylor Wood.

“The panelists all shared similar positives about their training like employment opportunity and growing as a person. And at the same time we shared basically the same opinion about what could be done better, things like the stigma surrounding VET as a ‘2nd best’ option in comparison to tertiary pathways, with its need to be dispelled,” commented Jared Stone.

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Organisation winners Crown Perth – WA and Australian Employer of the Year 2015, Newton Moore Education Support Centre – WA School Pathways to VET 2015 and Central Regional TAFE (formerly Durack Institute of Technology) – WA Large Training Provider of the Year 2015 also took led various sessions at the forum, showcasing best practice and innovation in the training sector.

Winning a WA Training Award positions you as an ambassador for the training sector. Forums and events such as the Training Providers Forum are opportunities for our winners to share their stories, knowledge and insight on the benefits of training and what improvements can be made for the future.

“Invariably the feedback we get from our delegates is that they love to hear the award winners’ stories; especially from the students. The passion and enthusiasm for training that the award winners demonstrate can remind our delegates why they got into teaching in the first place,” said Robert Couzens – one of the Training Providers Forum organisers.

Applications are currently being shortlisted and we look forward to meeting our next ambassadors later in the year. Visit the Being an ambassador page on the WA Training Awards website or read our post What does it means to be a training ambassador? featuring 2014 winners Kathryn Schache and Geoff Franklin to find out more.

Where are they now – Abbey Sergeant 5 years on

In 2011, Abbey Sergeant won both the WA and Australian Trainee of the Year awards. Abbey started her training pathway at the age of 19 and completed a Certificate III and IV in Community Services with the Shire of Katanning, demonstrating that opportunities in WA’s regional areas can lead to fruitful careers for young residents.

Recently we caught up with Abbey to find out what she’s up to, five years after completing her training and winning the awards.                 

It’s been 5 years since you won WA and Australian Trainee of the Year in 2011 – where has life taken you since then?

It seems like a life time ago that I won the WA and Australian Trainee of the Year award, so much has changed since then. I have since left the Shire of Katanning and am working for the Shire of Gnowangerup as the Executive Assistant to the CEO. I have been lucky enough to take some time out of work and travel parts of the UK and Europe and I have come to appreciate that life isn’t all about work and that it is here to be enjoyed.


Since completing your traineeship – what have you learnt in your roles within community shires?

Moving shires has given me a different view on how each community works. By moving to a smaller shire I have been able to further develop my knowledge and skills within Local Government. Being in a small shire requires you to be so much more diverse in your skill set and work together in a very small team.

The Shire of Gnowangerup has a very proactive passionate community. They are interested in every aspect of their community and are generally interested in what is going on and how they can help. At times this can be challenging as we have to be very careful when we hold events so as not to clash with local weddings, Saturday sports or other major community events. This is something I didn’t consider as much when working for a bigger shire but now is very much a priority.

How did the WA and Australian Training Awards assist you in taking steps for your future?

The Awards gave me the confidence and courage to step up into the role as Executive Assistant. The Awards taught me that challenging myself is not a bad thing, although scary and daunting at first. This in turn assisted me when making the decision to move shires to further develop my skill set.

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Abbey Sergeant with her Australian Apprentice (Trainee) of the Year Award at the Australian Training Awards in 2011

What do you love about living and working in a rural area?

Not only has my career taken a positive turn but so has my lifestyle. I now live on a farm in Broomehill with my partner Wayne, approximately 20kms out of Katanning and spend the majority of my spare time helping out where I can. I really enjoy living and working in small country towns. It’s something about the people, their generosity and willingness to give anything a go. Small communities work together to get things done and never expect anything in return.

Why do you think it’s important for people to take up opportunities in their local community?

Living in a regional community can be challenging, as opportunities don’t come around very often. My advice would be to take the opportunity, whether this be a paid job or volunteer role outside of work. Give back to your community what it has given you. By involving yourself in the community you will meet new people and create networks. These relationships and networks within time will assist you in ways you never thought possible.

In my current role I have learnt the importance of communicating. At the end of the day as a shire staff member we are working for the community. By keeping the community up to date, informed and giving them the opportunity to be involved you are empowering them to manage their community and assets. This in turn takes pressure off staff and resources.
Where do you see yourself in another five years’ time?

I will be almost 30 years old, eek! I hope by this age I am a little wiser. I’m not entirely sure where I will be. I have always wanted to work for myself so you never know.

WA Training Awards winners are selected for their drive and determination to achieve great things and make a difference in their industry or community. Our training ambassadors span the entire state, with winners and finalists from the metropolitan and regional areas.

If you’re interested in having a training ambassador speak at your next event, contact the WA Training Awards team by email at for more information.