On the evening of Thursday the 8th of May I was privileged to be able to attend the 2014 Australian Construction Achievement Awards in Brisbane (ACAA). Throughout the night we witnessed six major construction projects that have cost billions of dollars, required millions of man hours and showcased the incredible innovation that exists within the construction industry.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening however was when the 2014 Ern MacDonald Fellowship winner was acknowledged. For Ern MacDonald, nothing was more important than recognising and encouraging the development of skills in young Australians and this resonated with everyone in attendance at the awards as Justin Halliday made his way to the stage to achieve the recognition he deserves. All realised that none of these projects would have been possible without skilled tradespeople, many who commenced on the projects as apprentices and ended as highly qualified professionals.

At a time when there is little recognition of skills excellence, it was refreshing to see someone who has followed a VET pathway, become a qualified tradesman and who is continuing his journey of excellence be recognised. This is at the very heart of WSA programs. At the individual level, it enables skills to be showcased and acknowledged and leads to a ‘fast tracking’ of an ‘apprentice to a master’ while at the same time it improves performance and productivity. Perhaps, just as importantly though, WSA programs promote a skills respect culture, one which recognises the value of Vocational Education and Training – something that continues to be sadly lacking in this country.