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Jewellery apprentices' careers set to sparkle

For the first time in its 18 year history, two apprentice jewellers will share TAFE Queensland's Jewellery Apprentice of the Year award after the pair took out the top honour at a recent, prestigious awards night.

The fourth-year apprentices Brock Hodgson (25) and Paul Armstrong (37), are completing their studies at TAFE Queensland's South Bank campus, which sees them attend intensive block training with world-class teachers.

"I have loved my block training through TAFE Queensland," Brock said.

"My teacher is so helpful and knowledgeable when demonstrating technical aspects of jewellery manufacturing."

"The on-campus training blocks were so important for learning techniques that you don't learn at work. My classmates were also jewellery apprentices, and being able to discuss what we were learning was a great aspect of the training."

Brock's sentiments were echoed by co-winner Paul, a mature-aged apprentice who started working with jewellery after engraving items and repairing watches with Mr Minit.

"We all come from different backgrounds, different areas of the industry and have different career trajectories, so we share and learn a lot when we're together," said Paul.

After returning to work from their block training, both Brock and Paul noticed how enhanced their skills were, thanks to the hands-on training in purpose-built facilities with access to modern equipment found in any manufacturing and design studio around the world.

"During every training block, we fine-tuned our skills by learning different methods and techniques. Our teachers were also supportive and encouraging every time we began learning a new facet of jewellery making," Paul said.

Held each year, the Apprentice Jeweller of the Year Awards celebrate the talent and creativity of Certificate III in Jewellery Manufacturing (MEM3605) graduates through an awards program that forms their final assessment.

Graduates have four weeks to design and manufacture three pieces of jewellery that meet specific criteria and fit with a unique theme.

The awards acknowledge the quality, artistry, strength, durability and wear-ability of students' designs and the overall quality of the finish.

This year's theme was Reflections, which allowed the apprentice jewellery students' imaginations and technical skills to run wild.

Paul, who has been undertaking his apprenticeships at Hogans Family Jewellers, says that using his creativity to design unique bespoke pieces for the event was an excellent way to showcase the skill set he perfected during his studies.

"I made a pair of sunglasses with interchangeable lenses, gold inlays and gems set in one arm, with matching cufflinks and a signet ring which both also had gold inlays and diamonds set in each piece," explained Paul.

Brock, an apprentice with Stephen Dibb Jewellery, handmade a matching set of winning pieces that included a ring, pendant and bracelet.

"After I finished and submitted my pieces, I was content because I was so proud of my work. I wasn't stressed as I didn't expect to win. All the different entries showcased each of our different strengths, and I thought a few of the others were definite winners," said Brock.

On the other hand, Paul went through a roller-coaster of emotions after submitting his pieces and waiting for the big night.

"Waiting for awards night was agony - the anticipation and excitement were incomparable to anything I'd experienced before. And when I heard my name announced as the winner, I was ecstatic!"

His delight with reflected by Brock, who described his win as absolutely amazing. "I was shocked I won but also insanely proud of my entry - it was genuinely one of the best days I've ever had," said Brock.

Both agree that winning vindicates the effort each has made to find employers, attend block training and put in the work over the past four years.

"Winning is an amazing feeling. To have our skills and knowledge recognised in this is mind-blowing. Both of our families and friends are all proud of us, and I know this is my life's calling," concluded Paul.

TAFE Queensland Director of Faculty Creative Arts and Digital Design, Jackie French, said having two award winners was a total surprise – but the judges could not separate the two.

"The judges and I were blown away by the quality of everyone's jewellery, particularly considering how disruptive COVID has been on everyone's studies," said Ms French.

"It is incredible to think that students have created the stunning pieces on display - young people, who are only just starting in the industry."

"Everyone was amazed by the range of talent entering the industry – it's inspiring, particularly when jewellery manufacturing, like all manufacturing, has been impacted during COVID."

"As we continue to recover from the pandemic, and consumers return and drive demand in the jewellery industry, TAFE Queensland must provide its apprentices with the skills they need to be employable now and well into the future," concluded Ms French.