A pioneering training initiative that began as a dream many years ago has finally become a reality for the Capitol Caterers Group. Speaking at the official opening of the Midlands Hospitality Academy, joint MD of Capitol Caterers, Merrill King explained how the idea of starting an academy had always been a desire, but that the "red tape and administrative commitment had been eyewateringly terrifying". Thus the idea of an academy had remained just a dream.
But with the everchanging demands of BBBEE and the focus on skills development together with the need to up-skill and promote their own workforce, the challenge to start a training school managed entirely by Capitol Caterers became a top priority. Delving into the administrative intricacies of applying for accreditation was amiably managed by Kelvin Phillips, who's quiet demeanour overlaid his dogged determination to achieve results. His success in getting the project off the ground swiftly earned him a well-deserved promotion from training manager to the director of MHA.
However, securing appropriate premises proved challenging and it took the better part of six months before an historic home in Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg was found to be the perfect venue. In August 2018 remodelling began and with a start-up investment tag of R2.5 million, MHA now boasts a state-of-the-art kitchen with 10 workstations as well as lecture facilities to accommodate 20 students at a time. A rigorous process was followed to ensure certification of the facilities as an accredited training provider and the academy has been endorsed by both QCTO and CATHSSETA.
Janet Mill, the company's HR director officially opened the MHA premises at an elegant evening attended by educators, suppliers, clients and the media. She expressed her delight in witnessing the dream becoming a reality saying, "Capitol Caterers recognises that the training and development of our staff is fundamental to the improvement of our operational performance and the achievement of our strategy and goals. Our greatest goal is to see our employees being promoted from within our skills and training programme".
Kelvin Phillips added that the primary motivation behind MHA is "to build a repository of skills to satisfy Capitol Caterers' voracious appetite for growth, but to also both deepen and widen the levels of proficiency in the catering industry". He added that it was anticipated that by year end, at least 40 employees would be trained on a full qualification and a further 150 on various skills programmes.
CATHSSETA accredited courses on offer include Professional Cookery, a 1-year NQF 4 qualification, Assistant Chef (6 months NQF 4), Cook Convenience, Food Service Assistant and Kitchen Cleaner, all carrying an NQF 2 qualification. The QCTO accredited Chef Course will run over three years and carries an NQF level 5 accreditation. Each course covers comprehensive theory, practical and workplace experience components.
MHA is also committed to training the unemployed and at present 36 unemployed youths have had their lives immeasurably changed by qualifying for the Cook Convenient Course, a three month NQF 2 accredited course. Eighty students applied and were interviewed for the 36 positions, with the final places given to those who presented good school grades and displayed a passion for food.
Apart from gaining theoretical and practical knowledge at the Midlands Hospitality Academy, all the students will be absorbed into Capitol Caterers contracts during the course to gain their in-service experience in fully operating kitchens. This hands-on experience will enrich their CVs immensely and ensure far better job prospects for their future.
In time, the MHA plans to open its doors to housewives, students and foodies, or anyone wishing to expand their repertoire in the culinary field. Cook-offs and Master Chef type competitions are also in the pipeline as teambuilding initiatives for businesses and staff motivation "But whatever the event, it will be sure to include unusual activities dressed up with lashings of fun!" said Kelvin when asked for his future plans.
So, the dream has finally become a reality and what better way to reach that dream than knowing it will impact on the well-being and future of so many people as they too will reach their personal, educational and upskilling milestones.