After a year of study, hard work and training, 33 students with intellectual or physical special needs successfully graduated from the Professional Cookery Learnership (2019), offered by Tsebo Solutions Group Learning and Development in partnership with the HTA School of Culinary Art. The SETA accredited learnership trains aspiring chefs and food & beverage workers by offering a theoretical component as well as practical experience in Tsebo’s professional kitchens. An additional 52 learners graduated earlier in February with a practical-only component of the learnership, which covered the fundamentals of professional cookery, nutrition, health and safety and sanitation.
The jubilant graduates are currently studying towards a second learnership in Food and Beverage Service before being offered potential positions in Tsebo’s catering business.
For Nompumelelo Mkhonto this graduation is more than she could have imagined for herself two years ago.
Mkhonto was working as a cleaner at a school for children with special needs, when Tsebo’s Group Learning and Development Facilitator Nonhlanhla Matshidiso visited to recruit people for the learnership.
Not only did Mkhonto seize the opportunity to apply, but she spread the news among her friends with special needs, many of whom had not been successful in finding employment.
“This means so much. Our parents are so proud … they’d like to put us in front of the television so that we can tell the world,” she said.
For Matshidiso finding young people to fill Tsebo’s learnerships is a calling close to her heart. Having contracted polio as a child, Matshidiso understands first-hand the challenges and stigma of living with a disability, and is herself a graduate of Tsebo’s Professional Cookery Learnership (2012).
Matshidiso finds it difficult to walk long distances or stand for a long time, so when she was offered a desk-position as an administrator in 2013 for Tsebo’s Learning and Development Academy, she grabbed the opportunity. It wasn’t long after that she discovered her passion for recruiting and mentoring learners with special needs.
“They look to her as a mother figure, we definitely couldn’t do it without her,” said Peter Dalzell, Group Learning and Development Manager. “She’s 100% dedicated to these learners, if there is any kind of problem you’ll find her on the phone to their parents.”
“This programme makes you feel like you are giving something back. It’s so important to see how many people you can help by giving them opportunities and placing them in the workplace,” said Dalzell.
Mhkonto added: “When people see us wearing these [chef] uniforms it’s like we’re worth something. When people with special needs are given an opportunity, we use it. It’s like we just jump for it and give it our all.”