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NMIT student takes out top Furnishing Industry Award

25 Mar 2013

An NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) graduate has recently taken out the prestigious Andrew Kossenas Memorial Award at the Furnishing Industry of Australia (FIAA) Awards - the furniture training equivalent of winning a Brownlow medal.

Gareth Openshaw, who completed the NMIT Certificate II in Furniture Making Pre-apprenticeship (Cabinet Making) last year, won the award for being the best overall entrant across all levels and trades. His entry, which he designed and completed during a work placement at Bainbridge Fine Furniture in Airport West, was a centre table with sunburst veneer, inspired by the art deco period. Gareth, who is now studying furniture design at RMIT, was also judged the best Victorian pre-apprentice on the night.

The table, which is valued at $5000, took two weeks to complete. “I was rapt by the finish on it and the look of it,” he says. The award has given his career prospects a significant boost. “It's a great honour. For me, it really opens a lot of doors to the high-end furniture makers,” he says. For Gareth, fine furniture making is a very gratifying art form. “I love working with my hands, getting to know certain materials and creating something out of nothing.”

The 19-year-old, who eventually wants to run his own design business, says the NMIT course gave him the opportunity to work with the best furniture makers in the business. “The course gave me basic skills and made me 80 per cent more employable than if I had come straight from high school.” It helped him develop furniture-making skills that are integral to his work as a designer. “I needed to know what was feasible and what permutations a material would have.”

Also a winner on the night was NMIT student Rod Porter, who came equal first in the Victorian Apprentice of the Year award. Rod, who works for CCK Cabinets in Oakleigh, completed the Certificate III in Furniture Making (Cabinet Making) course last year.

Head of NMIT Design, Drafting and Interior Fittings department, Brent McGregor, says NMIT students have won in either the pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship category for the past six years. He says the course structure, along with NMIT's industry connections, have been vital to the students' success.

Pre-apprenticeship students are also encouraged and supported to find a work placement as part of the course. “We have really strong ties with employers in the industry, many of which are reputed and renowned furniture makers. Where Gareth worked at Bainbridge Furniture, they do a lot of high profile work, so the exposure Gareth got was extraordinary,” said McGregor.

Mr McGregor says the awards are vital for the support they give local up-and-coming furniture makers and provide a benchmark standard for training in the industry. “It's not just about the piece of furniture, it's the whole process. Students have to submit a portfolio in support of their design which documents the research and design process. They prove themselves as good communicators as well as designers.”

Gareth says the support of the FIAA is critical at a time when the local industry is under threat by cheaper imports and manufacturers moving overseas. “It gives young people an incentive and the encouragement to keep doing something they love.”


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NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) - Situated on seven campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne's north, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce. NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.