A GROUP of pupils from Charleston Academy hosted a Christmas lunch for their families to celebrate the skills they have learned from a hospitality course.
The 10 S5 pupils have been working towards the Skills for Work Hospitality qualification, and put their knowledge to the test as they organised a festive meal for 25 of their fellow students and their families at the White House cocktail bar in Union Street.
The initiative was supported by Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Inverness and Central Highland in order to encourage pupils to explore careers in the hospitality sector.
DYW’s programme manager Andy Maxtone said: “This kind of real-life work experience is so valuable.
“This is all about employers and businesses engaging with the young people to create opportunities for them. It’s in the interests of businesses to get involved with schemes like this. Hospitality is so important to the Highland economy, yet sometimes it’s viewed as a ‘lesser’ job.
“It’s great to be able to demonstrate where the opportunities lie and the skills that are required.
“In the Highlands it’s particularly important that we keep attracting young people into the sector but that’s also true of Scotland. This is where a lot of the opportunities are and we need to be trying to retain our young people.
“If they get the opportunity to try it and get the experience they might be more minded to pursue a career in something which will serve them well in this area, but equally can take them anywhere in the world.
“It might inspire people to get into enterprise. We need to open their minds to the possibilities that are open to them.”
Eilidh Edgar, DYW’s operations manager, believes the benefits of a career in the hospitality industry should be highlighted to youngsters at an early age.
“People should be proud to work in hospitality,” she said.
“If you go to any continental country everyone is so proud of hospitality and tourism, but I think we could do more to instil that in our young people.
“We live in the most beautiful place in the world and we should be encouraging young people to be part of that fantastic Scottish welcome that we provide.”
White House owner Charlie Barbour believes the opportunity will benefit both students and businesses, and is hopeful that more young people can be encouraged into the hospitality industry.
“The schools locally are trying to promote hospitality as a career choice and that’s very important from our perspective,” he said.
“The industry is huge in the Highlands but there is generally a shortage of staff, so anything the schools can do to promote home-grown talent is great.
“It’s up to businesses like ourselves to support that by giving the kids a real-life opportunity to stage an event.
“The feedback we have had from the school is that the kids are very much focused on doing a good job. They are interacting well with each other, with their customers and with the members of staff who are guiding them.
“This gives us an opportunity to show people that hospitality can be a very good career choice. We have put it to the schools that the hospitality industry is very busy and vibrant and also great fun.
“We have seen even the shyest kid who has come to work for us become one of our best team members. It happens all the time. Every year we take on two or three young people and they are all quite nervous when they start, but that changes very quickly.
“We take them from being a child in school to being an adult when they come to work for us. It’s a huge transformation for them, but they very quickly realise that everyone has a specific job to do.”
Charleston Academy’s principal teacher of home economics Alison Fraser said the scheme has already made a huge difference to her pupils.
She believed the chance to take the lead with the initiative has boosted their confidence and given them the chance to pursue opportunities suited to them.
“I am so proud,” she said. “It’s amazing to see the pupils working so hard.
“They have all given 100 per cent and I’m hopeful that it might inspire some of them to go into the industry and realise they have something to offer.
“They have really taken to it and it’s made them realise that what they are contributing is of value.
“It’s clear to see that they are happy, and sometimes you don’t see that when you’re sitting in the classroom. It’s giving them real-life experience and building employability skills, and that’s really what it’s all about.
“Hopefully they can build on the experience to try and get into a job or college in the future.”
Mrs Fraser added that the vast majority of the event was planned and prepared by the youngsters.
“The whole organisation was done by the pupils and they valued having a bit of responsibility,” she said.
“It’s important to give them the chance to take the lead and use their initiative, and it’s a real-life situation for them. It’s invaluable. We can’t do things like this in classroom.”
The programme has already proved a hit with pupils keen to pursue a career in hospitality.
Kirsty Hay (16), who spent the day working behind the dry bar, has been involved with the Skills for Work qualification since the start of the academic year.
“It was a great day,” she said.
“We helped set up and we’ve been working behind the bar. We have done events in the school before but it’s the first time we have worked in a restaurant. We have really enjoyed it.
“It was difficult at first but we have really enjoyed it. It’s been a great experience.”