From education to employment

Activate Learning prepares culinary students to be part of the food revolution

Andy Slater, Director, Faculty of Lifestyles for catering and hospitality, Activate Learning
Here in the UK we are very fortunate in that we are exposed to a multitude of cuisines and celebrated restaurants. The influences that have come from our diverse culture, particularly in the capital, have set the pace when it comes to what we eat. In many towns across the UK independent eateries, many varieties of restaurants from Vietnamese to Italian to English, as well as pop-up food stalls and Michelin starred establishments act as a focal point for the town’s economy and contribute to the cultural diversity of these towns and cities.
Here at Activate Learning we strive to keep the culinary industry thriving by training the chefs of tomorrow.  The faculty is committed to teaching students practical and valuable skills, which not only allows students to follow their passion, but also prepares them for meaningful employment by embedding experiences of work into their curriculum. It is so important that learners see the relevance and impact of the skills and knowledge they gain at college.  This gives them the confidence to take the risks required to learn, grow and innovate when out in the workplace.
In particular students within our lifestyle faculty have expanded their horizons through an excellent network of employer partnerships. For example, catering students at Bicester and Banbury College were fortunate enough to partake in the Rotary’s Young Chef Competition earlier this year where eight young people produced a three-course menu for judges.
In another example students from Reading College worked together to serve hundreds of people for the Reading Town Meal event last October. Students took delivery of masses of fruit and vegetables and prepared a two course menu. They even sold produce at the event. This particular opportunity allowed students to experience the thorough preparation that is necessary for events of this size, which hit home even more when the food was devoured in less than an hour.
It is so important that students have an overview of every aspect of the culinary process, which is why they are taken on industry visits to meet traders, sellers and chefs – so they understand where produce is sourced from and how it is chosen.  At the other end of the scale our students support many additional local events involving everything from designing menus to cooking and serving meals at the Pride of Reading and Oxfordshire Restaurant Awards.
Having access to these kinds of competitions and events accelerates learning, builds grit and exposes students to the real-world working environments, which is paramount for the UK to uphold and indeed break through the current level of catering expertise we have on offer in our towns and cities.
At the core of their learning students are able to make links to future employability. Taking part in community initiatives, including delivering demonstrations at Banbury Food Fair, supporting charity dinners and serving a meal for hundreds of people at Reading Town Meal, allows students to contribute to the local economy whilst creating ties for when they leave any of these colleges and go into the workplace.
We have partnered with employers who are also helping to map out career pathways, which develop the technical and soft skills required for entry into employment. Success of employer led partnerships can be seen through the accomplishments of one of our former students, Emily Greenough, who has gone on to work for Michelin-starred restaurants around the world including Eleven Madison Park in New York.
At Activate Learning we believe that students should be able to correlate the skills they are learning to practical opportunities on leaving education. By creating structured employer led relationships for our students through the industry partnerships that we form we create motivated, work-ready young people with the technical and soft skills required by employers.  By giving something back, students can receive a lot in return.  So, as our towns and cities continue to innovate and grow with culinary delights so we are preparing today’s students to contribute and innovate in the UK food revolution, so that we can continue to offer a diverse range of restaurants, food and catering.
Andy Slater, Director, Faculty of Lifestyles for catering and hospitality, Activate Learning

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