On her first day in the kitchen of a busy restaurant, Sarah McVety learned how to properly chop vegetables. The next day, she learned how to make mayonnaise. By the third day, she knew she had found her calling.
"I've learned so many things, but most importantly, I know I definitely want to pursue culinary arts as a career," McVety says.
At restaurant On the Curve in Mississauga, Ont., chef apprentice Sarah McVety, with owner Olaf Mertens, learns the particulars of the trade.
She graduated from The Woodlands School in Mississauga, Ont., last June, but returned in September to take a co-op course she hoped would give her the direction she needed.
"You need to have this type of experience to know what you want to do," McVety says of her placement at On The Curve in Mississauga.
Within just a few weeks, she became a valued member of the team, assisting with catering and parties.
"When I worked my first dinner, it was a rush. I had never worked at that pace before, but it was awesome," she says.
McVety signed up with the >Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), a school-to-work transition program sponsored by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Students receive co-operative education credits through placement in a construction, automotive, manufacturing or service trade. The hours they work on the job are put toward journeyperson certification.
Culinary arts falls under the service sector. Over the last 30 years, the proportion of Ontario workers employed in that sector has grown from more than half to nearly three-quarters, the ministry reports.
Today, McVety is employed as a full-time apprentice at the restaurant. She looks forward to the flexibility the career offers and dreams of working on a cruise ship.
Though she didn't need the credits to graduate, she appreciated the opportunity to explore a career with the support of teachers who arranged the placement.
"We wanted a place that would have good learning opportunities and good supervision," says co-op teacher Wally Rawlinko.
"Sarah is benefiting from a most rewarding experience and feels like part of the family. The employees have taken her under their wing and she is learning every day."
Work experience gives students valuable insight into a career, says Olaf Mertens, owner of On the Curve.
"Many of our students have only done some baking with their mother or grandmother. They soon learn this is a physically demanding job.
"You're standing on your feet eight to nine hours a day, working with your hands. You have to have a positive attitude. You need to be very self-motivated and need to have passion and drive."
The Peel District School Board graduate learned his trade in Germany, where students explore a variety of trades at 13 years, select one and begin their apprenticeship soon after.
"I think an early start is important," says Mertens, author of Cooking from the Hip and a Humber College instructor.
"What I've seen in Europe has influenced what I do here," Mertens adds. "To become a master chef in Germany, you study accounting, math and law ... You need to understand all aspects of opening your own restaurant and need to learn how to train apprentices. I came back to Canada wanting to make a difference."
(Linda White (firstname.lastname@example.org
) is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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