A culinary course at Hazelton Secondary School is giving students the skills and confidence to study professional cooking at a post-secondary level, helping to fill a gap in the local job market.
About 25 students are currently learning hands-on cooking skills, food service techniques and workplace etiquette through a new culinary arts program at the school.
Launched this year, the course was created to replace a similar program, called ACE IT trades training, which had been successful at the school.
That training provided graduates with a college-level qualification of Professional Cook 1, but it had to be dropped when the schedule changed.
HSS teacher Barb Janze said the school had been working to replace the ACE IT training because it had been well-suited to students who were not academic.
“It was really successful here because we have a lot of kids who are very hands-on, less academic so they need to do stuff with their hands in order to learn and feel like it’s meaningful,” Janze said.
“We have kids that would normally not talk at all and have really low self-esteem and then they go through this program and all of a sudden they were very confident.
“A lot of them went on and they are still working in the cooking field.”
The new program does not culminate with a college-level certificate but it is designed to prepare them for the transition to a post-secondary education.
Janze said introducing the students to a college-style learning environment increased their chances of enrolling and thriving in the Professional Cook 1 course, which is available at Northwest Community College.
“For some kids they might not really even attempt the college course if they hadn’t kind of been introduced to it in high school,” she said.
“The theory stuff can be quite challenging so if we can give them a head-start on it so when they all of a sudden see it at the college level they are a bit familiar with it.
“They’re not like ‘oh my goodness this is so different from high school and so much more intense’ and get really freaked out and quit.”
It also prepares them for the workplace through a series of classroom protocols, such as phoning in to let their teacher know if they cannot make it to class.
They also complete five certificates required to work in hospitality, which means they can work at local businesses.
Janze said even students that did not want to further their studies after high school would be prepared to work at local businesses, helping to fill a gap in the local job market.
“A lot of local food businesses are having a hard time because people who are trained, and they are older adults, they will train them and then [the worker] will figure ‘well I’m going to go get a camp job’,” she said.
“What’s cool about this is that these kids are able to go and be of use to the local businesses and they get employment at high school level.”
In September, restaurant owners in the Hazeltons told The Interior News they were struggling to find good workers because camp jobs in the resources industries were draining the local employee pool.
Upper Skeena Development Centre executive director Alice Smith said at that time she had noticed an increase in the number of entry-level jobs being advertised in the Hazeltons.
Now her organization is establishing a commercial kitchen to run a cafe where the high school’s culinary arts students will be able to do work experience to help them transition to the workplace.
“The Senden property would like to open a cafe where we can provide work experience to students who want to work towards obtaining their Red Seal [professional cook qualification],” Smith said.
“We had hoped to start that project this year.
“We’re seeing that as an extension of the training that would take place at the high school and it would be an intermediary place prior to students perhaps having long-term employment in the private sector.”