Joh Schouten is an inspiration, completing three back-to-back qualifications in his 60s.

A carpenter and cabinet maker by trade, Joh was forced to find a new direction after injuring his neck. Uncertain about what to do next, Joh visited the TAFE Queensland Cairns campus to figure things out.

"I can't explain it, there was something pushing me to return to school. I had reservations, but I didn't back down. I just told myself that it's not unheard of someone my age going to TAFE Queensland," he said.

Joh enrolled in a foundation course to improve his skills, knowledge and confidence to undertake further training.

"I met my teachers and I knew I'd made the right decision about furthering my education."

"My initial studies opened a doorway and eased me back into school. I thought, 'oh crickey' about the computer lessons, but I kept at it and my teachers helped me through."

When Joh graduated, he wanted to continue studying and decided to pursue something he'd always been passionate about.

"I thought I'm going to do art next and this is now my time to find out if I can or can't do it. Well, I did my Certificate III in Visual Arts (CUA31115) and blow me down! It's what I was looking for all this time."

"Once I started to gain confidence in myself and my art skills it all came naturally to me. Studying art has also allowed me to continue my love for woodwork without harming my neck injury."

By the time he completed his second qualification, Joh was hungry for even more training and enrolled in the Diploma of Visual Arts (CUA51115). These studies allowed Joh to further develop his creative side and form a special friendship.

"When I finished my diploma training, my teacher Rose Rigley continued to mentor and help me to further develop my art portfolio."

"It has been such a good experience to work closely with Rose. The continued support I received from her and all of the visual arts teachers has been invaluable," Joh continued.

"I can't talk highly enough of the quality training and support I received from my teachers at TAFE Queensland."

Joh was one of five students to benefit from additional mentoring by visual and cultural arts teachers. For Joh, the success of that partnership was evident when Rose encouraged him to apply for his work to feature in an exhibition at the Cairns Art Gallery. More than 100 applicants applied and Joh was among a handful of artists selected to participate. Joh has also been named a regional 2020 Queensland Training Award finalist for Vocational Student of the Year.

Rose said she was proud of Joh's achievements.

"It has been great to mentor Joh and to help him build a body of work," Rose said.

"The arts industry can be difficult to navigate and mentoring is one of the best transitionary pathways from being a student to a practising artist. I was mentored at the beginning of my career, so it's nice to be able to pay back that opportunity."

"Artists supporting up-and-coming artists is not only great for professional development, but the camaraderie will also strengthen the creative industry around Cairns."

Joh said his transformation from a student to an artist was still yet to sink in.

"Even though I have sold some of my pieces, it hasn't registered that I'm a working and selling artist. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it," Joh said.

"I do look at where I am now and what I've been able to achieve in such a short time. I started a good path by coming to TAFE Queensland and now everything is opening up for me."

Joh had this advice for other people who are contemplating returning to school.

"You've got to believe in yourself. Don't beat around the bush, make the phone call now and get started," Joh said.

"If you don't get into the swing of things straight away it doesn't mean you're inadequate, you're just learning something for the very first time — you haven't lost anything by trying."



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