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Sue Parfett

Insight from the experts, part 15

Staff development can be rewarding for all parties, says Sue Parfett

Posted by Hannah Oakman | March 22, 2016 | Catering & hospitality

Not long ago I was enthralled to listen to a presentation by Jason Atherton, a chef at the top of his game. He described how starting with very little, his drive and ambition took him to work in the best restaurants with a salary that would have been the envy of many professions. A final part of the jigsaw making up his success was provided by the people who offered him the training and opportunity to constantly develop and improve. This is a reason why I love this business. It shows how young people with ambition can rise quickly. People development is a particular focus of mine and, when done correctly, it can be rewarding for the employee and the business as well as, in our case, the school.

By respecting, caring for and effectively training employees, an employer can ensure their loyalty, efficiency and general wellbeing – all vital components of a successful company and ones which deserve a lot of attention.

However, when seeking ‘stars’, I don’t necessarily believe in keeping with tradition. A particular example of effective people development within my own company comes to mind. Rahel Berhe began working for Brookwood in 2010 as a food service assistant at St Anthony’s School for Boys in Hampstead. At the beginning of this academic year she became the chef manager at The Falcons School for Boys in Chiswick. This quite rapid career progression is worth sharing.

Investment in people is the only way we can help ensure our catering services are well served

Rahel joined Brookwood through Working Links and chose the job because it fitted her working hours: with a young family, term-time work was ideal. She’d got a diploma in travel and tourism but hadn’t really had much experience in catering. I get the sense that we simply suited her situation. 

When I spoke to her, though, it was clear that this initial mindset quite quickly gave way to a discovery of her genuine interest in food. I was speaking to her just after she’d finished serving a Chinese New Year lunch. I could see from her face and manner that she genuinely enjoyed doing it. As did the children, who gave her an enormous round of applause before they went back to class. These moments, although perhaps small in the grand scheme of things, are rather special to see.

Rahel Berhe

While at St Anthony’s, Rahel progressed rapidly through our skills development programme. As a result, she became a trainee assistant chef and went on to complete her NVQ levels one and two. It’s clear she’s hugely eager to learn and she seems to have taken all the opportunities which have come her way. She was going to go through our management training programme, but a vacancy came up at Falcons, which she was asked to cover while a new manager was sought. This temporary arrangement became permanent in less than a month, after the school specifically requested to keep her. From then on she’s thrived at Falcons: the food is fantastic; she’s respected by pupils and school staff alike. When I asked her what advice she would give to someone looking for a career in catering, one word constantly came up: “opportunities”. These success stories are so satisfying for any business owner to witness; it’s so good to hear about a young woman flourishing through her own hard work and copious enthusiasm, alongside the guidance and opportunities we were able to give her.

Rahel’s story explains why not choosing the obvious route is so massively important, especially when facing a national skills shortage – Rahel, whilst not earning Jason Atherton’s salary, is happy, our client is happy and we have all gained something by it. It’s heartwarming to see hard work so deservingly rewarded. What is that old saying? Hire the attitude and train the skill. Investment in people is the only way we can help ensure our catering services are well served. That is, until government catches up with investment in vocational skills at a senior level.

Sue Parfett is a managing partner of the education caterer The Brookwood Partnership W: 


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