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Helping local students get a taste of the real world

A work experience student plates a dish at the Royal Exchange restaurantAs an Education Business Partnership, one of our key responsibilities at Inspire! is to find, coordinate and support work experience placements for local young people. Every year, we source over 4,000 placements for students from Hackney, Camden and Islington: to make this possible, we rely on the generosity of employers across London, who open their doors to students to give them this crucial insight into the working world.

Over the past two years, we’ve built an exceptionally strong partnership with D&D London, the proprietors of renowned restaurants such as Plateau and German Gymnasium, as well as the South Place Hotel. Through Inspire!, D&D London offers work experience to more than 50 local students every year, who work in the kitchens of their restaurants across the city.

To find out more about their support for work experience, and why our partnership has been so successful, we sat down with Catherine Shennan, Recruitment & Retention Specialist at D&D.

“The students are exceptionally brave to come out of school for two weeks and walk into a kitchen where the expectation of their performance is the same as that of any other chef,” she told us. “Working in a commercial kitchen is not for the faint-hearted.” But the students soon learn that D&D’s staff are committed to supporting their development: “Our chefs are not like Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares . . . they are actually prepared to invest time in giving them an opportunity.”

As Catherine explained, a well-organised work experience placement can be an immensely positive experience for students. “Work experience allows young people to get out of the shelter of school and experience life in the real world. They get a taste of the real working life of an adult in unfamiliar surroundings. It gives them confidence and teaches them life skills that perhaps they won’t learn in school.”

While hosting students requires a lot of planning and buy-in from staff across the organisation, Catherine explained how Inspire! have streamlined and supported the process, carrying out risk assessments at all their venues, briefing students and arranging pre-placement visits. “At all times during the placements, the team at Inspire! were on the other end of the phone to answer any of our questions.”

The extra effort, for Catherine and her colleagues, is worthwhile. “You have to look after young people, as they are our future. It’s an opportunity to see potential young chefs coming through the ranks – even at 14 and 15 years old there are some real little superstars.” Indeed, one such superstar, placed at Plateau by Inspire! in early 2015, will return to the restaurant this August to start an apprenticeship (thanks to D&D’s partnership with the University of West London).

D&D’s commitment to nurturing future talent is evident elsewhere, too. They run a scheme placing young chefs from a Bermondsey community centre in their kitchens and work with chef colleges across London. D&D’s staff also benefit from these schemes, gaining valuable training and development skills through engaging with young people during their placements and courses. In Catherine’s words, “you have to love the industry to do what we do.”

“We’ve been delighted by D&D’s approach,” said Jo Barker, Senior Programme Manager in our Employer Engagement team. “It’s truly inspiring to work with an organisation so committed to providing opportunities for local young people. With our facilitation, their passion for supporting the next generation is providing incredible opportunities for students and helping them fulfil their potential.”

To find out more about hosting a work experience placement through Inspire!, click here.

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