'By recruiting learners at 14, we can identify top talent early'

17th December 2014 at 17:52

Scott Freeman, head of academy at Bromley College’s food, hospitality and enterprise career college, writes:

Embarking on a career in the catering and hospitality industry has never been so appealing.  What with the “celebrity chef” factor, the huge popularity of TV shows such as the The Great British Bake Off and Masterchef and the buoyant job market, it is seen as a great option for many young people.

Catering courses within FE colleges are generally well regarded - some particularly so, as was highlighted in the TES cover feature last month.

The majority of such courses focus firmly on teaching the traditional, key skills needed to work as a chef.

However, we live in a changing world, and this is absolutely true of the catering and hospitality sector.  We need to respect the “classics” while recognising the need to move with the times. We must ensure that we are giving the next generation of chefs the skills required to compete in a dynamic industry.

We cannot expect the same recipe to continue working when it comes to training future talent, especially with more budget cuts on the horizon. The hospitality industry and the FE sector need to move together, with synergy.

I think it is fair to say that in comparison with many other vocational courses, hospitality and catering is at the top of the tree in terms of esteem. For this to remain the case, we need to take an innovative, fresh and dynamic approach.

Not only do young chefs need to be able to chop, peel, poach and fillet, they need to acquire strong academic, employability and entrepreneurial skills to make full use of their practical ability. We want to be training young people not only to produce top class food, but to also run a restaurant and understand how business works.

As head of academy at Bromley’s pioneering food, hospitality and enterprise career college, I focus on offering an employer-led pathway for my students. Our advisory board consists of representatives from major industry players including the Hilton, Hyatt, D&D London and many more top employers and professional associations.

Not only has this group helped to design the curriculum, but it is assisting with the delivery and offering our students many exciting opportunities both during and after their courses.

We work with our focus group of industry professionals to develop exciting menus, projects and assessment opportunities for our students. In return, the businesses learn more about how FE colleges operate, making them less likely to judge the sector in a negative way. Such close working cements our relationships and enables us to give the industry what it most needs, which is well-trained and enthusiastic young individuals.

The other vital element to sustaining the sector’s success within FE is giving young people the chance to begin their vocational training at the younger age of 14. With a change to government legislation last year making it possible for FE colleges to recruit from Year 10, we were extremely keen to take advantage of this.

Young people are more focused than ever and for many, a practical and career- relevant pathway is very appealing. By offering top quality vocational training to 14-year-olds, we can identify top talent early and ensure we nurture it.

Our 14- to 16-year-olds follow a rigorous academic programme alongside their practical lessons, but much of this is done in context of the industry. This makes lessons stimulating and interesting – and, most importantly for students of this age, relevant.

These young chefs spend two full days in the kitchen and will soon be running our new town centre restaurant and conference centre. Being involved in all aspects of this commercial operation will expand our students’ skills and their horizons.

By the time these young people reach the age of 16, in many cases they will be at least two years ahead of their peers in terms of career progression. Some may perhaps decide at this point that catering is not for them – yet with a set of high quality GCSEs, entrepreneurial know how and exposure to a work environment, they will be equipped with a set of skills that are transferrable to any other industry.

And for those entrants coming in at 16, we offer a similar, innovative programme, which encompasses the skills-focused ethos of our career college.

This is a blueprint that can, and should, be applied to all other vocational subjects; opening up opportunity for young people, whilst ensuring the future growth of UK industry. 

Related articles:

How catering colleges serve up a gourmet education - November 2014

Trailblazing colleges given the green light - June 2014


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