The Cape Winelands is synonymous with beautiful vineyards, award-winning destinations and renowned for attracting world-famous restauranteurs and chefs to establish iconic cuisine experiences, contributing significantly to the local economy. However, in the wake of the post-pandemic era, building resilience against the backdrop of great losses to this sector has been essential. According to Deloitte, the hospitality industry shows wonderful maturity and new opportunities despite the challenges of Covid-19.

Stellenbosch-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Bergzicht Training and Development & Development has continued its legacy of upliftment. While many non-profit organisations closed their doors in the hope of better days, the skills training establishment continued to empower and pave the way to employment for many towards improved prospects. In fact, with the celebration of its third decade, the NGO announced its extended offerings to provide more comprehensive support to its beneficiaries.

“In the vortex of the pandemic, we established an evolved support entity,” Kathy Harris, Bergzicht board member for strategy, explains. The Student Development Unit lays the foundation for an advanced approach to mentoring, assisting students beyond training and job research, continuing throughout their first year of employment. “Our resolute focus on evaluating the challenging and changing environment in which we operate ensures our relevance. Offering evolving and optimal solutions for our students positively impact their families and communities.”

Recently certified food service assistant trainee and Kayamandi resident Simunye Mxolwa thanked the organisation for investing in her future, saying, “I come from poverty where every day feels like a year. I wanted to give up but instead the encouragement of a classmate helped me to see it is a journey to find a passion for life.”

Head Chef at Muratie, Riaan van Schalkwyk beliefs becoming a chef is a calling: “The food service industry makes a huge impact. It requires passion, hard work, teamwork, and ownership.” He advocates for more comprehensive training, noting the eager learnability of Bergzicht trainees. “Training gives everyone a great understanding of their responsibility and knowledge and skills they need to become an amazing chef one day. They will get very far with the right mentorship and guidance.”

This echoes the experience of Allistaire Lawrence, Executive Chef at Boschendal, who agrees that his impression of trainees from Bergzicht exemplifies a willingness to grow and look ahead to the future. A beneficiary himself from skills training programme of a Bergzicht partner, Stellemploy, Allistaire is a firm believer in the value of training. “It is a very great opportunity. You have no idea what you are doing for us,” he says, expressing gratitude towards extending learning opportunities for the less fortunate. “Most of us don’t have financial background to go to chef training academies. We so appreciate the great job you are doing.” Admitting the hospitality sector is a difficult industry to excel in, he believes it is one of the greatest industries for creating more job opportunities.

Award-winning chef, entrepreneur and celebrity Bertus Basson says there is a shortage of well-skilled employees in the hospitality industry. He finds it “very exciting” that the local municipality and organisation are invested in building the industry. “Skill is everything. You’ll never stop learning,” he added, addressing the Food Service Assistant (FSA) class of 2022.

FSA programme alumni Mandy Alexander, a local woman from an underprivileged community, Ida’s Valley, counts the training opportunity as something she will “always be thankful for”. Now working at wine estate Muratie as a food service assistance, she overflows with gratitude, giving credit to Bergzicht for “the wonderful job opportunity that opened up because of their support and training.”

Registered Social Worker Nathalie Skippers, also the Student Development Manager at Bergzicht, goes the extra mile to assist students with life challenges due to difficult circumstances, to ensure better retention rates. “The special part of the journey is the purpose the support programme gives back and the gratitude shared amongst us,” she says. The organisation boasts with a 66% over-all placement rate and increased retention rates one year after certification, with 57% amid the pandemic last year for the food service assistants.

Bergzicht’s holistic approach to enabling students to be more employable starts with a compulsory life skills course and a nature-bound self-reflective camp in partnership with Usiko, before proceeding with training. “I will never forget my first week at Bergzicht. The life skills classes boosted my confidence immensely. The camp is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I learned that my struggles aren’t so bad,” Mandy shares. “Bergzicht Training and Development made me stronger and wiser. Our mentors were the best.”

At a recent FSA programme certificate ceremony, donor and Global Accommodation CEO Erika Kok, praised the organisation for always delivering on what they promise. “I recognise the value of what very few learning institutions offer sustainably,” she said. Her sentiments were echoed by member of the Mayoral Committee of Sports, Youth and Culture and Ward Councillor Adams, who commended Bergzicht for training “competent and confident” food service assistants to proudly represent Stellenbosch where they are placed in respective work opportunities. Stellenbosch Municipality has awarded a three-year tender to Bergzicht, as part of its Mayoral Skills Development Youth programme.

Bergzicht’s FSA programme runs in partnership with the Chef’s Training & Innovation Academy (CTIA), based in Devon Valley. The certified training prepares participants over a period of seven weeks of theoretical and practical on-campus training, followed by three weeks of work-integrated learning at local hospitality and tourism establishments. The certificate will empower successful trainees to be employed as waitrons, cooks, kitchen assistants or assistant chefs in restaurants, guest houses, hotels and wine estates.

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MAIN PHOTO: Certified FSA student Asiphe Bangani with Councillor Ralphton Adams of the Stellenbosch Municipality MayCo Member Sports, Culture and Youth and Bergzicht Training and Development & Development Board Member and Health Care Specialist Dr Guin Lourens  Photo: Deon Cloete
LEFT: FSA students practice their chocolate art during the programme
Bergzicht Training and Development & Development Fundraiser and Board Member Hannes Koornhof and Bertus Basson share a moment of joy at the recent FSA certification ceremony at CTIA in June  Photo: Deon Cloete