On Thursday the Stellenbosch-based non-profit company, Stellemploy, celebrated the graduation of nine of its beneficiaries after they completed the internationally-recognised Highfield Qualification in Food Production and Cooking. The graduation comes at a time when professionally trained staff are once again needed as the hospitality industry kicks into high gear.

The group was able to complete the course thanks to a generous donation from The AALL Foundation. The foundation also sponsors Stellemploy’s chef assistant course. During the yearlong programme beneficiaries are trained by lecturer and chef Léta du Toit-October and spend six months doing in-house training at the institute followed by a practical exam. Once they have passed that exam, they spend six months undergoing practical training at various top restaurants in Stellenbosch under the guidance of a chef.

This year, the beneficiaries also completed three modules of the SETA-accredited Life Skills programme, as part of the chef programme.

“The aim of this programme is to help beneficiaries to function more effectively in both their private lives and in the workplace,” said Betta Augustyn, the CEO of Stellemploy.

Stellemploy was established in Stellenbosch in 1995 to combat unemployment and poverty in the local community by offering free skills development training to the youth to become assistant plumbers, electricians, gardeners, painters and handymen that specialise in building maintenance.

The graduation was attended by the beneficiaries, their family members as well as individual donors and various philanthropic organisation representatives as well as corporate donors including Remgro, Distell, the ALL Foundation, and the Jannie Mouton Stigting.

Dr Hannes Koornhof, the Chairman of Stellemploy’s Board and a representative of The AALL Foundation, congratulated the beneficiaries on their commitment and hard work.

“Today is the beginning of a new chapter and a new stage in your life. You have all persevered in the most difficult time in the hospitality industry and you have made it. Any chef will tell you that if you want to be a success in this industry you need perseverance and grit,” said Koornhof.

One of the beneficiaries, Inga Mila, worked under the guidance of Chef Adrian Hadlow, who is based at Rupert & Rothchild Vignerons.

“Inga hasn’t had as many opportunities as a lot of us have in South Africa, but he came into this space and through our interactions, he made me think very differently about life. Today he is working here and literally running a section at one of the best restaurants,” said Hadlow.

During his practical training at Rupert & Rothchild Vignerons the management was so impressed with his commitment to his job and his eagerness to learn, that Mila was offered a position before completing his training.

“Completing this course was not easy, but I want to thank Chef Adrian who supported me throughout this journey and who taught me so much,” said Mila.

Another beneficiary, Ongezile Piedt, who completed his internship at EIKE under the guidance of chef Kyle du Plooy, was also appointed at the prestigious restaurant upon completing his internship.

The other beneficiaries were Raylene April, Keiko Benito, Sinazo Mokoena, Reagan Orsen, Elizabeth Pietersen, Simonè Smith, and Renaldo Swarts. Simonè Smith, Reagan Orsen and Inga Mila also respectively received the Best Academic Achiever, the Best Practical Achiever, and the Best All-Round Achiever awards.

Orsen thanked all the family members and all the chefs who guided the beneficiaries during their practical training.

“Today we graduate, but we do not stop learning. Our diplomas do not exempt us from advances in our industry, they don’t shield us from society’s opinions or outlooks. They do no not relieve us of the need for credibility, and they do not automatically place us at the top of our leagues. If this school has taught me anything, it is that you earn your right to wear the title ‘chef’ and you do that through time, dedication, perseverance, and a little slice of humble pie from time to time,” said Orsen.

One of the guests in attendance, was Prof Jan du Toit, the Director of the Africa Centre for HIV/Aids Management and a former lecturer in the Industrial Psychology Department at Stellenbosch University. In 2000, Du Toit encouraged Augustyn to start offering accredited training to beneficiaries to increase their employability.

“In the beginning, we only had artisan courses, but in 2007, we started offering a chef assistant course as we had built a kitchen for chef training. We have had very talented students that completed that programme, one of whom was alumnus chef Marvin Robyn. He begged us to start offering a yearlong chef programme, which would better prepare beneficiaries for the hospitality industry.”

Commenting on the beneficiaries receiving a certificate to acknowledge their training, Du Toit said: “One of the things that I always believed when it came to training was that the individuals who completed these courses had to walk away with a certificate in their hand that proved that they had the skills to do the job, because that is what employers are looking for.”

“What sets Stellemploy apart is that they do not only train beneficiaries and provide them with a certificate, but help them find jobs too,” said Du Toit.