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Common questions about Catering industry placements

This article looks at some of the questions that employers offering industry placements in this skill area have been facing, with potential solutions for you to consider.

Seasonal variations

The catering industry often has seasonal variations in terms of staffing requirements.

You can adapt the industry placement model to fit your requirements. Planning the placement with seasonality and business peaks and troughs in mind will help your organisation.

It could be useful for the student to come in initially at a quiet time, to observe and understand how your organisation works, and then come back for the bulk of the placement to continue learning and to support staff at the busiest times. This would give the student exposure to a variety of tasks and learning. The college or school will support you to link your work with the student’s course content.

Shift patterns and working hours

Working in catering often means shift work and split shift patterns, that might fall outside of normal working hours.

Work outside of normal working hours is an ideal opportunity to expose students to the realities of working in the catering industry. It is helpful for students to understand that some catering work involves working outside normal working hours but also that many areas of catering do not, for example, school catering, large employer restaurants or catering in care homes or hospitals.

Providing the college or school with information about your working patterns, talking to potential students and sharing detailed information about your placement opportunity will pay off in terms of attracting the right calibre of motivated students.

Travel

Our working patterns means that our staff often have to travel at unusual times.

Travel might be an important factor to consider when recruiting students if they will have to travel very early in the morning or late in the evening.

The school or college you are working with might provide student transport, especially if you’re offering several students an opportunity on the same site, and students may be able to access local transport schemes.

Opportunities to develop technical skills

Some placements may offer limited opportunities to develop technical skills.

This is an extremely diverse industry offering many types of workplace experience. The pace and challenge of operating in a business such as a local, artisan café, for example, could vary significantly from largescale hotels or restaurant chains. Students may be interested in experiencing more than 1 workplace.

You can adapt the industry placement model to fit your requirements. You can share a placement with one other employer to make up a complete placement of at least 315 hours.

Both employers would agree appropriate activities that support the student’s development objectives. It may be that you can offer a placement with another organisation that you already work with. A placement model where a student works across more than 1 site or in several teams may be ideal for you in sharing the load and for the student in getting a broader understanding about catering.

Your college or school may be able to suggest another local organisation that you could share the placement with, or you may be able to identify and work with customers or suppliers.

The school or college will help you understand the course the student will be studying and the areas of skills development they are looking for. This will allow you to be clear about the work that students can do and what would be useful and helpful for you and for them.

There may well be new areas that you have been hoping to develop but haven’t had the time or resources to be able to consider. The industry placement can provide opportunities, for example, you may wish to carry out a menu update using price and content comparisons with other local restaurants. The placement student could help to carry out research and report on potential new menu options.

Perceptions of catering

Catering sometimes faces a negative perception of offering low level, low paid work which may not attract students.

Offering industry placements and creating inspiring and engaging opportunities to view the industry in action, can positively influence potential young recruits and raise your profile in your local community. Students sharing their positive experiences of high-quality work and learning with peers, families and friends, can be part of dispelling myths about the industry.

Once you’ve hosted successful placements, you could create case studies which will provide excellent PR and further evidence of success to encourage future students and recruits into the industry.

Time getting students up to speed

When students arrive, we’ll have to spend a lot of time getting them up to speed with our company and our ways of working.

In many environments, induction for industry placement students is identical to full-time staff induction. You could also offer relevant pre-briefing information about your organisation, perhaps visiting students at their college or school before the placement.

The college or school will work with you before the placement so that all parties (you, the student and the college or school) understand your responsibilities and expectations are aligned. You will all also need to sign a 3-way Industry Placement Agreement, to confirm arrangements.

Time to supervise

We don’t have time to supervise a student.

You could begin by allowing students to observe and work alongside staff. Try starting with a smaller number of day release sessions to get the student settled into your routine and ways of working. Over time, energetic, enthusiastic students with a growing skill set should make a significant contribution.

Often in the catering environment, there is a wide variety of tasks and activities that students can get involved in. Involving several members of your team in turn to introduce students to specific tasks can share the supervisory load, broaden students’ experiences and help them to feel part of the team.

There are also direct benefits for supervisors and mentors, such as the opportunity to develop management skills, which may be especially valuable for staff who have had limited management experience. Some employers have devised schemes that acknowledge and possibly reward line managers or mentors who work with students, recognising that the employee has developed their leadership and management skills.

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