Practical education for the modern world

British education is having to pull itself up by the bootstraps to meet the needs of modern businesses if it is to climb the international performance league tables.

Karen Hindle

British education is having to pull itself up by the bootstraps to meet the needs of modern businesses if it is to climb the international performance league tables. As Apprenticeship Week 2010 gets underway Karen Hindle looks at the traditional way of receiving on-the-job training

Put a graduate with a first class degree in hospitality management and a 16-year-old with an NVQ in the same subject in front of pub landlord Tom Parkhurst and he would take the 16-year-old “every time.”

Tom, just 20, is one of, if not the, country's youngest pub landlord, having gone through the apprenticeship NVQ system.

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After completing his training Tom and his parents pooled their resources to buy the lease on the Greene King owned Four Horseshoes pub, at Thornham Magna, near Eye.

He had been saving to put a deposit on his first home and his parents had sold up and moved to Spain.

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“It was a major change of tack for all of us. I had moved out when I was 16 to come here to the Four Horseshoes to do my apprenticeship and my parents were in Spain. It was a huge step for all of us.”

Now having achieved his level three in all areas of pub management, he is running the pub with help from his parents who do the odd shift for him or help him with repairs when he does not have the time.

Certainly not everyone who has completed a level three qualification could go out and run a pub on their own and all that that brings with it, but Tom comes across as a determined man, with a maturity far greater than his years. He is self-assured and knows what he wants.

“There are only plus points with the apprenticeship scheme.”

Such is his commitment that nearly half his staff members are apprentices or have done practical on the job training.

“I think it creates better staff; they are learning all the time while they are working. With the NVQ system you have to prove you are competent all the time. There is not an opportunity to just float about. If you don't show any interest then you won't get on.”

While Tom recognises the importance of degrees and academic education he gives far more weight to qualifications which put a greater emphasis on practical learning and overall competence.

“He said: “You don't need qualifications to work in a pub, but you do in mine. I want people who show they are interested and show a level of competence.

The level two qualification is pretty basic dealing with something as simple as locking a door. But when I see someone has that level two I know what it entails, what they have had to do to achieve it and what they can do on a practical level and because they have had to do it over and over I know that it is ingrained in them.”

Tom puts as many of his staff through the apprenticeship scheme with courses affiliated to Otley College. All of the training takes place on the job with the assessor travelling to the apprentice rather than seeing them in a classroom setting part of the time.

“That was what I liked about it when I did the scheme,” say Tom. “I did most of my apprenticeship here then got a job in a pub outside Norwich and my assessor came to me there to finish it off.”

Tom has even put his housekeeper with 15 years' experience under her belt through a level two award.

“With 15 years' experience our housekeeper might not have had much to learn on a course like that but it has given her a qualification in something she knows how to do really well. It also helps with confidence as well.

“One of my guys in the kitchen couldn't cook at all now he is second chef, standing in for our head chef when he has to. I also know if I needed Richard front of house he could do it. He probably wouldn't like it but he could do it. Having done his level two he then felt confident enough to go out on the Sunday and do the carvery for 170 people. It sounds easy but you have to talk to each of them, find out what they want and carve the meat well.

“Before doing this he would never have been able to handle that.”

Richard Hutchings, now 22, agrees with Tom's assessment of him adding: “Before I was not on any scheme and I just knew how to cook for myself at home, but here it is very different. I was here to learn, but because I wasn't confident at anything I was just doing the washing up really.

“I was put on the course and now I am second chef and handling all sorts. If Tom says there are specials needed on the day I am head chef then I have to come up with them. I have my own ideas about dishes and sometimes we can give those a go.”

Tom's other level two apprentice is Shane Hayward, 19, who also works in the kitchen.

Having started in the kitchens, before progressing as far as he could front of house, he settled on a life in the kitchens and is now one of the chefs, looking to start his level three qualification as soon as he can.

“I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I did go to college to do a bricklaying course, but I didn't get on very well with that and didn't know what to do next.”

To keep the wolf from the door Shane got a job working at the same pub as Tom in Norwich.

When Tom took over the Thornham Magna pub Shane went to work for him there.

Shane rose to assistant manager status front of house, but he could not go any further because Tom already had an assistant.

Tom said: “That's another good thing about the pub trade and the apprenticeship scheme. If one side is closed off for whatever reason there is another way.

“I didn't need another assistant manager so we put Shane in the kitchens and he has progressed well there, now he is ready to move on to the level three which will go into much more of the managerial side of running a pub.”

Shane added: “The pub trade was probably not something I would have gone into before, but I got a job in a pub just to earn a bit of money and to get me out of the house.

“The apprenticeship scheme has given me a lot of opportunities I would not have had. It has put my life on track and given me a career.”

To mark Apprenticeship Week Otley College is holding an open day showcasing its courses on Saturday, February 6, 9.30am-1pm.

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