Coronavirus restrictions didn't stop the 2020 Hunter Region Area Training Awards (HRATA) from taking place this year.
Whereas normally in June each year 500 people would sit down to a three-course meal at NEX with presentations followed by live music, in 2020, due to social distancing requirements, the awards went virtual.
Finalists across the 12 major category areas were interviewed and filmed in the lead-up to a June 22 online presentation where results were announced.
Applicants, friends and families across the Hunter and Central Coast VET footprint tuned in from the comfort and socially distanced safety of their own homes at 6pm on the day to here the news, with over 10,000 views by lunchtime the day after the event.
A key motivation in pressing ahead with the awards despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 was the belief that ceremony, celebration and ritual are an essential rite of passage for participants in vocational education and training (VET)
Similar virtual presentations were held across the other nine regional areas that make up the framework of the NSW Training Awards.
These combined awards are conducted annually by Training Services NSW to recognise outstanding achievement in the vocational education and training sector and represent the biggest celebration of VET in Australia.
The regional awards lead into the NSW State Awards and winners from this, move into the national awards via the Australian Training Awards.
The Hunter is a distinguished supplier of VET, with over 15,000 apprentices and trainees in the Hunter/Central Coast area.
This training has never been more important as Australia battles a pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stated that the nation's rebound will rely on vocational training, a skilled workforce and increased apprenticeships to lead the way out for economic recovery.
The Hunter has a proud tradition of opening up its businesses to become classrooms.
Traineeships and Apprenticeships provide a structured approach for young people to undertake formal learning and then practice their skills in a real world setting through paid work. They often become a pathway to higher learning and university degree programs.
HRATA executive coordinator Merran Wiggins and chairperson Michael Murray, who managed the event, extended their deep gratitude to the Great Northern Hotel which kindly offered its venue for free for the filming.
For any young person, studying and working while navigating adolescence can be challenging, but to be nominated for the HRATA awards, make it into the top three and perhaps be a winner - well, that needs to be celebrated.
HRATA organisers were amazed by the resilience and flexibility of participants who embraced the circumstances and gave it the sense of occasion it so rightly deserved.
One candidate was at home with wife and brand new baby when he was announced winner.
Another person found their boss had ordered a three-course meal be delivered to their home to be enjoyed during the presentation, while many others nominees held barbecues and parties to mark the occasion.
Hopefully the nation will have moved past the pandemic come this time next year, but HRATA remains committed as ever to do what it takes to foster and recognise the value of Vocational Education and Training in the Hunter region.