New South Wales

When Donna Colombini started out as a 16-year-old hairdressing apprentice she never dreamt that her chosen career would take her all around the world or land her at the pinnacle of her profession. But that is the reality for Donna, who was named the VET Teacher/Trainer of the Year at the 2016 Australian Training Awards.

Donna’s recognition is a richly deserved reward for giving 150 per cent of herself to her students and her industry. Her experience spans over 36 years as a hairdresser, including 16 years as a TAFE teacher and five years as Head Teacher of Hair and Beauty at Sutherland TAFE College, Gymea. Under her watch enrolments at Gymea have tripled in a number of courses, against a decreasing trend in apprentice numbers.

“The programs I have developed and delivered are first and foremost student focused for industry outcomes,” said Donna. “I want to ensure I’m aware of every opportunity to build my team and my own skills that will in turn bring benefit to our students. The industry feedback we have received is extremely positive, confirming that we continue to excel in the training we are providing to their apprentices.”

Donna sets herself the highest standards and continually strives to improve her teaching through innovative training delivery methods. These include utilising high profile industry guest artists to showcase new styles to students; organising photo shoots and competitions; and leading a study tour to Italy, providing students with global exposure and a ‘life-changing’ experience.

Expressing her ‘overwhelming gratitude’ for her success as an Australian Training Awards winner, Donna said: “I love my job and feel privileged to work with students, my team and the industry. It’s awesome to be paid to do something I’m passionate about and it was just amazing to get the award for doing something I love. But I don’t see this as my own achievement—to me success is all about making connections with people and working together to drive change and get results. My award is for all the teachers within my organisation and the industry and all the VET teachers across Australia who commit themselves 100 times over to the success of their students and the growth of their industries.

“What the Australian Training Award ceremony brought home to me is how inspiring and empowering are the stories of others who have gone through the VET system and have had such great success. My experience and that of countless others shows that ordinary people can have incredible outcomes. It is really important to have that recognition and to showcase how VET is providing real skills for real jobs and futureproofing the skills base of our country.”