When it comes to work experience, it's quality that counts

BITC Scotland Programme Manager Vivian Maeda explains why quality work experience is so crucial in developing the future workforce, and how the Food for Thought programme is helping with this.

Vivian Maeda - Programme Manager, BITC Scotland

I’m sure we all remember when we applied for our first job; it was daunting to fill in the application form, terrifying to attend the job interview (if we were so lucky!) and difficult to know whether we had performed well or not.

To address the issue of these barriers to young people entering the workforce, high schools across the country have been revamping subjects to include employability, organising careers fairs and CV-writing surgeries and arranging work experience with local businesses.

These are certainly improvements from the situation when I was at high school and these should rightly be praised. However, there is more to do, as highlighted by the Wood Commission report.  Young people in Scotland require more support, as the youth unemployment rate in Scotland remains higher than the UK average.

In partnership with The Scottish Government, Education Scotland and Business in the Community Scotland, The Food for Thought Programme supports schools across the country, bringing in local businesses and making food education relevant, engaging, fun and effective. As well as cooking sessions, visit to farms, and practical growing projects, we also offer quality work experience sessions in the food and hospitality industry.

The aim of these sessions is to support pupils through the complete journey from digesting a job advert, researching the potential employer, filling in the application form, preparing for interview and actually interviewing for a job.  Our potential employers are aware of the arrangements and ensure that the whole experience reflects the reality of their industry.

Through the programme, pupils gain and develop essential skills which prepare them for work in any industry, such as discipline, teamwork, problem solving, flexibility, hospitality, dealing with customers, paying attention to detail, and cooking are some of many skills pupils have been able to learn and develop. 

Industry specific experience has included going inside a kitchen to be shown hands-on how to handle food - preparing langoustines for example. Other pupils have been asked to help prepare a venue for a real wedding, or to serve customers in a fine dining restaurant.  This quality work experience provides a focus to the pupils' own personal development plans.

Providing such opportunities during school years rather than waiting until college or university allows pupils to engage in the world of work and make better, more informed decisions about their career choice.  They also gain a mixture of soft and practical skills to help them progress.

Benefits for individuals and industries

Scotland’s food and drink industry is thriving and contributing to the national economy, yet always struggles to attract talented young people to the industry. The Food for Thought quality work experience programme seemed ideal for my business supporter, Graeme Mutch, Executive Chef from Holiday Inn Aberdeen who faces problems when recruiting chefs.

He believes that by providing support to programmes like Food for Thought he will be able to engage with talented young people and show them, via quality work experience, the opportunities in industry and the potential to grow.

Colin Hinds, chef and proprietor of the Kilted Lobster restaurant, another Food for Thought supporter, told me how he suffered from a lack of support and guidance of a role model when he was in high school, and had to work really hard to overcome hurdles. As a successful businessman today, he wants to give something back to the community and found the quality work experience aspect of Food for Thought the ideal way he could support young people.

Pupils are certainly benefiting.  Rachel just recently completed her quality work experience in Prestonfield House in Edinburgh, during which her attitude to work and her focus both improved.  As a result of the work experience she's been offered a job, which she is thrilled about. Alan McGuigan, general manager at Prestonfield Hotel commented on her excellent, professional performance as being the key reason for the offer. 

Pupils that have taken part so far have found the experience really positive and engaging. Quality work experience gives pupils the chance to be given real responsibilities and although for a short term period, it is intense and certainly gives them a real advantage. This programme embraces The Wood Commission recommendations and puts into practice just what it takes to give young people a better start in the often intimidating world of work.

Quality work experience is one of many initiatives from Food for Thought.  If you'd like to get involved in this, or any of our other activities, please contact me by emailing vivian.maeda@bitc.org.uk.