Are they ready? Blog by KnifeofBrian

The  Staff Canteen

A few thoughts on work experience and education....


Over the past few years, I have had a few students in from colleges on work experience and trial shifts, with a view to gaining employment with me. It has worked out well for some and not so well for others.

It would seem that the current education system is not making it easy for young people in vocational education to progress. Please understand that this is just my view. I was an instructor at a college for a while and now, on the other side as an employer/recruiter, I feel I can see at least two sides of this argument.

Certain educational organisations want to make every student an academic. Not a bad thing. But my argument is that not all students are ready to become academics. Let me go back on myself a bit first. When I say “academics” I mean that all students are set the target of achieving a grade C or equivalent in core subjects English and maths. They need this to pass their courses. As an instructor/tutor I was put under continual pressure to ensure I was actively embedding functional Maths and English in to my sessions. To interject again, my maths is terrible and my English is far from perfect (see entire blog).

When I was a student at college, I just wanted to be a chef. Learn to cook like Marco Pierre White or Gary Rhodes. That was it. I took it upon myself to read their books and learn their recipes. I was inspired and motivated by the prospect of success. The willing to do well and be the best I could be. So when an enthusiastic young chef walks through my door into the kitchen and shows desire and passion, this excites me. I will help, nurture and dedicate as much time as I can to helping them be the best chef and person they can be. I encourage them to read books and research recipes themselves. Thus embedding functional maths and English.

It took me a long time to realise I was not at stupid as my teachers made me feel. So much focus on high school grades and test results with no character development. I understand that was a different time. It was only in my latter years that I decided to take it upon myself to be more studious. In fact, it took me a while to realise that I was actually capable of being a student and actually wanting to learn. My days in teaching, I met some pupils who reminded me of myself at that age. They were now being put under pressure to achieve grades in Maths and English when all they want to do is cook or bake. They were frustrated with classrooms and wanted to learn a skill. Some very talented cooks and bakers were being demoralised because they could not get along with having to go “back to school” so to speak.

I’m not saying that it doesn’t work for everyone. I’m sure there are plenty of success stories out there. But how can you expect a vocational tutor to do in one year, what a school teacher couldn’t do in 11 years.

I’m seeing too many young chefs cancelling shifts at work because they have to stay behind at college and do extra lessons in maths and English.

Surely the idea of college is to prepare students for the professional workplace. So encouraging them to cancel a shift in order to fulfil a disillusioned assessment board, seems to go against the grain. That’s a little “ranty” I know. Sorry! But like I mentioned earlier, having been an instructor at a college and now an employer. I can see several industries losing potentially solid employees at the first hurdle.

Like I’ve mentioned. This is just my personal view which I felt like sharing. Some people may agree, some will disagree.  I find the whole subject area very interesting and education and preparing children for the future is something I am very interested in for obvious reasons.

I have spoken with fellow chefs, caterers and other people who work in various types of professional environments. Most will agree that to find a young person to start employment with the right work ethic is rare. They are usually unprepared for a professional working environment.

Why? Realistically, I don’t know the answer. As a father of three children, one of whom is at college himself. I can honestly say I m a little shocked that his college course is only 18 hours long per week. Fortunately, he works a few days a week at a bar, doing long shifts. Where I feel he may be better prepared than most when eventually going in to full time employment.
A recent work experience student was scheduled in for a full 12-hour day. Well, I planned to have him shadow me from 10:30am until close. By 4pm It was clear that he was flagging. This made me think about this whole issue. These students are going through college after leaving school and are not used to working or focussing on a job/task for more than a few hours. They have been raised on a diet of 100 minute lessons and breaks every few hours. This does not happen in catering.
I don’t have the solution. I can’t even guess where to start to be able to rectify the situation. All I can do is offer work experience to young people and hope that they “get it!”. The road to success is not always about academic achievements. It can come in many forms and also be measured in many ways. 

Knife of Brian is Head chef at the Greyhound Ipswich and Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering. He supports CALM (campaign against living miserably ) male suicide charity and has just finished his first pop up event at the Suffolk Show and would be a gigolo if he wasn't a chef. 

For more blogs like this from Knife of Brian visit his website www.knifeofbrian.co.uk

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th August 2016

Are they ready? Blog by KnifeofBrian