As a self-confessed shy person from the wrong side of the tracks Eric Fanene never thought he'd be a poster boy.
The Mt Druitt resident, 38, is a promotion face of TAFE Western Sydney Institute's flexible study campaign, Mix + Match, which lets students choose how, when and where they complete their courses.
"I didn't think I was going to make that billboard — I thought it was going to be the model type," he said.
"It just proves TAFE are not stereotyping people."
Mr Fanene migrated from New Zealand in 1989 and has traded construction work for a diploma in mental health, alcohol and other drugs.
He works with troubled young people in Blacktown while completing the qualification, his second in mental health.
"I have rapport with them because I've been there and done that," he said.
"I came from a background of strict parents but all kids when they grow up can do the wrong thing — could be rebelling, drinking alcohol, taking drugs.
"In our culture a lot of males hold all their problems in.
"I like to let them know that there's a time where you've got to let it out."
Mr Fanene was nervous about being the oldest in his classes before realising the diversity of students and options at TAFE.
"We older people do have lives, families to look after and stuff like that, so to get into a school where they can fit the schedule around you is great," he said.
Mix + Match options include physical and virtual classroom learning, self-paced online study to complete qualifications more quickly, and the ability to take classes at any campus within the institute in the next six to 12 months.
Sharon Kerr, a director of education at TAFE Western Sydney Institute, said the contemporary study model meant more ‘‘clicks not bricks’’.
‘‘Students put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together for themselves,’’ she said.
‘‘You might want to do some electives that other students don’t want to do and traditional lock-step means studying what everybody else studies at the same time and the same pace.
‘‘It’s a quantum shift in culture for both staff and students.’’
Mix + match will be piloted for: Beauty therapy, health and fitness, business services, library and information services, Information Technology, building and construction, and a graduate certificate in Language, literacy and numeracy.