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As a young Alan Tongue ran 1.2km time trials with his under-19s Canberra Raiders teammates, all hoping to one day play in the NRL, he came to a realisation.

"The guys who were doing the toughest jobs - the hardest work, the biggest load at uni or study or whatever it was - were the ones continually winning in the fitness drills," he said.

Tongue, who at the time was doing a light automotive mechanic apprenticeship, is a firm believer that players having a work or study interest creates strong character traits and elevates performance.

It's a big reason the Raiders legend is an ambassador for the NRL-VET (Vocational Education and Training) Pathways program.

For National Skills Week on August 24-30, the NRL is preaching the extensive opportunities and skills that come from trade apprenticeships and other traineeships.

Real skills for real careers: NRL Careerwise

Webinar snippets featuring NRL-VET ambassadors, including Tongue and NRLW star Jess Sergis, who is involved in childcare, will be uploaded to over the course of the next to provide information.

"National Skills Week really highlights and promotes vocational education and training around Australia," said NRL-VET Pathways coordinator, former Rams, Raiders and Sea Eagles forward Luke Williamson.

2019 Golden Boot winner Jess Sergis received her award during the Nines in Perth.
2019 Golden Boot winner Jess Sergis received her award during the Nines in Perth. ©NRL Photos

"It promotes the avenues, where they can lead to, what they provide, the benefits of doing that, success stories. Everything you can think of in that realm. We've been associated for a few years.

"It's certainly a focus for us. We're a stakeholder with the government to promote vocational education throughout rugby league and also around Australia where our networks reach."

Real skills for real careers: David Gower

The NRL-VET Pathways program works with high schools, junior clubs and upcoming and established rugby league players.

"It's not about shattering young footballers' dreams and saying, 'You've got to have this up your sleeve if this doesn't work out'," Tongue, who played 220 matches for Canberra, told

"That is a reality, but I try to encourage them [and say] the work you do away from footy creates your character, your work ethic and gets you an understanding of what it's like to be part of a team.

"It becomes ingrained in you. It's a part of, 'When I turn up, I work hard and I always look for a way to push myself to the absolute best'.

"I was listening to [Eels forward] Dave Gower speak the other day and he said [VET] wasn't a Plan A or a Plan B - [that and footy] were both Plan As for him. I think that's really important."

Tongue told his story of continuing to chip away at his mechanic apprenticeship even when his NRL career took off.

Real skills for real careers: Matt Ballin

"I got to do it full-time for about a year and a half, but the second year I was down here [in Canberra] I made grade," he said.

"For the next sort of five years, I was doing it part-time, going back and forth to get it completed.

"It's something that I'm really proud that I did get done. The knowledge and the skills that I have taken away from that part of my life I still continue to use all the time in everything that I do."

Tongue implored people considering VET options to "find what you're passionate about and give it a crack."

Real skills for real careers: Personal qualities

Gower, a qualified electrician, is joining in an online Q&A panel on the SkillsOne Facebook page on Wednesday night where the Eels veteran forward will answer questions for parents and students.

He is a shining example for his NRL peers.

Real skills for real careers: How to find balance

"The Wellbeing and Education department of the NRL has been in place for a number of years now," Williamson said.

"Their focus has been trying to make that holistic type of player. When they do leave they game, they leave as a better person."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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