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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Student's apprenticeship a sizzling success story

By Aunie Edwards
Special to The Toronto Sun

Sometimes all it takes is the right opportunity for a student to truly excel," says Ed Markson, co-op teacher at St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School. "For Rohan Rojas, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) is that opportunity."

Sponsored by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, OYAP is a collaboration of education and business that enables co-op students to apprentice in a skilled trade and gain high school credits at the same time.

Rojas, a senior student at St. Joan of Arc, aspires to become a chef. After a mandatory pre-placement course, he spent his first semester working at Alta Rossa, an Italian restaurant in Woodbridge.

"Rohan learned health and safety as well as job skills," Markson says. "These kids are pursuing a career in a professional, adult environment -- it's a different world and we try to prepare them for it."

Armed with the confidence of a successful first term placement and some expert coaching from Markson, Rojas was ready to take his apprenticeship to the next level. As a second semester co-op student, he earned a coveted seat in the Humber College chef program.

Rojas attends Humber once a week for in-school instruction while he apprentices at the Toronto Board of Trade Country Club. It's an impressive placement and another example of Rojas' achievements under the OYAP umbrella.

"What a great accomplishment," Markson says. "Since signing on with OYAP, Rohan is like a brand new person -- he's elated and he's surpassing all expectations."

Gamini Hemalal, executive chef for the Toronto Board of Trade and Rojas' supervisor, agrees with Markson's assessment. "Rohan is a rising star," Hemalal says. "He's an enthusiastic team player and he will become a great chef."

Rojas himself has no doubts about his future in the industry: "I intend to pursue this right to the top -- my goal is to become an executive chef."

Rojas will need 6,000 hours of training before he can certify. It will take him at least three years, but with his OYAP-supported head start, he will already have achieved his Level 1 apprenticeship by mid-summer.

And he will do so under the extraordinary tutelage of an internationally trained and award-winning executive chef. Says Rojas, "I'm aware of chef Gamini's credentials, and I know what an amazing opportunity I have here."

Rojas began his apprenticeship in food preparation. "A good chef must have a strong foundation in the basics," Hemalal says. "When Rohan is in his final stages, he will work in our fine dining facility. He will learn about cuisine, of course, but an executive chef runs the kitchen -- he will also learn management and how to keep departments profitable."

Chef Hemalal is committed to apprenticeship training and tries to foster a mentoring role: "I am very happy to contribute to a young person's goals. But I also understand the importance of keeping this industry current and professional. I want to train better chefs -- great chefs for the future."

Rojas will graduate high school this month. His hours will be applied to his apprenticeship, his college tuition will be subsidized, he will remain under the supervision of an outstanding chef and mentor, and his transition to college years will be seamless.

"I've been teaching for over 30 years," Markson says, "and watching kids like Rohan Rojas find their future is still the best reward of this job."

(Aunie Edwards ( is a Guelph-based freelance writer.)

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