Chef apprenticeship honoured at the European Vocational Education & Training Awards

The four star Limerick Strand Hotel beat employers from across Europe to win the Small to Medium Size Enterprise (SME) Award at the VET Excellence Awards in Helsinki, Finland, on 17th October.

The Awards, which were held as part of European Vocational Skills Week, highlight best practice and recognise excellence in Vocational Education and Training (VET) throughout Europe. The Limerick Strand Hotel was presented with the SME Award in recognition of its commitment to the on-going training and development of its staff.

National Commis Chef Apprenticeship

The hotel was one of the first employers to engage with the National Commis Chef Apprenticeship, a new two-year programme delivered through a number of Education and Training Boards across Ireland. 

The two-year apprenticeship consists of a combination of day release and on-the-job training enabling chefs who are either embarking on a career or already working in professional kitchens to gain a QQI Level 6 qualification while earning a full-time salary.

The Limerick Strand Hotel is currently training two apprentice commis chefs who will be among the first graduates of the programme when they qualify this December. The apprentices combine two days’ study (one day in the busy summer period) in Limerick & Clare Education and Training Board’s Hospitality Education and Training Centre with three days working and training in the hotel per week.

A practical approach

The Limerick Strand Hotel Executive Chef Tom Flavin, an industry veteran who has worked in the kitchens of some of the finest hotels around the world, believes the apprenticeship is a great opportunity for school leavers who wish to become chefs, or for chefs already working in the industry who wish to improve their skills and gain qualifications. 

“A number of the chefs that have risen up the ranks in our kitchen over the years have undertaken many different courses but what stands out most about this one is that you can earn while you’re learning,” he says. 

“It is a very hands-on programme, enabling chefs to get a more rounded education while practicing and improving skills on-the-job. It’s a good option for young people who want to start earning as soon as they leave school and for those who thrive on a more practical approach to learning.”

Tom travelled to Helsinki to represent the Limerick Strand Hotel at the VET Excellence Awards and was joined by José Mata, one of the apprentices soon to complete the Commis Chef Apprenticeship at the Limerick & Clare ETB Hospitality Education and Training Centre. 

José highly recommends the apprenticeship programme: “The course is brilliant because you can combine college with working in the industry so you get the best of both worlds. If you undertake a full-time course you won’t gain the same experience and you won’t have the same exposure to professional kitchens.”

It is important, José says, to seek an employer who is committed to investing in your professional development while you undertake the apprenticeship. 

“Not only will a good employer pay you a full-time salary, they will also support you with further training at work. Tom is great at training chefs and getting the best out of us. 

“For instance, he paid for me to spend a day learning how to fillet fish with our fishmonger then encouraged me to enter the Chef Ireland competitions at CATEX where I won a gold medal in the fish competition. I wouldn’t have achieved this if it weren’t for Tom’s support.”

José’s colleague Louise Hannon, who will also complete the apprenticeship this December, was working as a waitress in the hotel when Tom spotted her potential and offered her a role in the kitchen. 

He encouraged her to apply for the Commis Chef Apprenticeship and Louise says that taking the course is the best decision she ever made. 

“I was a bit apprehensive before I started but I loved it from the very beginning. You learn so much in college but then you get to hone your skills even further at work. It has improved my confidence and been great for my professional development. I really feel that an apprenticeship is a great opportunity for young people who are leaving school and parents can rest assured that their children will be trained well. 

“In fact, my son recently came in to the hotel for work experience and he is now planning to apply for the Commis Chef Apprenticeship after his Leaving Cert. He has seen how much I have gained from the programme and knows it is a great career move.”

Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) Chief Executive, Tim Fenn, is the Chair of the Commis Chef Consortium Steering Group, which is charged with developing a programme that is attractive to both employers and potential candidates and that offers a career path with opportunity for progression and professional development. 

Standards of excellence

The approach taken is closely aligned with the principals underlying the IHF’s Quality Employers Programme, which promotes standards of excellence in human resource management aimed at supporting the empowerment and development of employees in the sector. 

“We are very pleased with the progress being made and feedback from training centres such as the Limerick & Clare ETB Hospitality Education and Training Centre in Roxboro where a new class is now starting with a waiting list of prospective Commis Chef Apprentices,” says Mr Fenn. 

“A key learning in the first couple of years has been the pivotal role the mentoring chefs play in attracting, nurturing and developing the Commis Chefs with the support of their general managers, HR professionals and owners. The new Commis Chefs have a great qualification and are already proving themselves as wonderful ambassadors for the profession.”

For more information on apprenticeships contact the apprenticeship section in your local Education and Training Board. Further information is also available from the industry lead for this apprenticeship:

Ioseph Nestor

National Commis Chef Apprenticeship Programme Coordinator
Kerry College – Monavalley Campus

T: 066 714 9600 | 066 714 9638 | 066 714 9676

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