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Nelson Training Centre – Helping Young People succeed

The Nelson Training Centre is a great education facility that focusses on helping young people enter the hospitality workforce, it gives them focus and sets these young people on a pathway that can lead to a lot more than making great food and coffee.

It provides an alternative for students where school didn’t work out, by creating another way to achieve NCEA Level 2 through hospitality. Students start the course as vacancies become available and generally leave to go into work or further education with others assisted with appropriate support until they’re ready for their next steps.

The Nelson Training Centre (NTC) has been owned by Y-Nelson since 2017 as part of their community education program and when I sat down with the manager, Chris Duke, he told me that NTC provides a pathway to employment to the hospitality sector for young people who need a little extra care and support.

Houdini Tuani, left, Chris Duke and Mandy Preston bring passion and decades of real world experience to the Nelson Training Centre

This pathway includes an introduction to continuing their career training at NMIT’s school of Culinary Arts. Chris says “we can help students achieve NCEA level 2 and the New Zealand Certificate in Hospitality (Level 2). Once a term we do a tour of the NMIT facilities so our students get an understanding of what a pathway forward could look like for them. Chris Fortune, the Culinary Arts tutor at NMIT is fantastic to work with and really does encourage our students to continue their education.

“By introducing them to the environment at NMIT our students also see the many other options for learning, so while they may start with us learning about the hospitality sector, it isn’t unusual for them to go on and study in a different field.”

One of the key roles of NTC is to help young people transition from school to adult learning and get them used to working in a structured environment, a place where fellow students rely on them to be on time and ready to work. They soon learn that if they are late to class then they are letting their colleagues down.

While Chris is the centre manager NTC has specialist tutors who pass on not just skills, but their personal experiences too. Chris says “Mandy Preston, who is our front-of-house tutor, is well travelled, a karate blackbelt and an artist who brings that background to her tasks of teaching essential hospitality skills and inspiring students to achieve their goals.”

Mandy has worked in the hospitality sector since her early 20s and says as well as bringing up four children she has been able to work in some fantastic places around the world. “I set up The Beach Café in Nelson around 20 years ago and have worked in a number of cafes including the Bridge St Collective and The Kitchen and have also travelled a lot. So, when I talk with students about how being able to do something as simple as making a great coffee means you can find work almost anywhere, I can support that with real examples. Having great skills really does open the doors to international travel.”

Learning the ins and outs of a commercial kitchen, Riley Stoddart is one of the students ate NTC

Chris told me that many of their students didn’t really fit into the traditional schooling model for various reasons, some are anxious, others have tended to close themselves away because they have been bullied or have moved here from another town and haven’t been able to make friends.

“Teenagers need each other, and we have an environment here that means they get support and can make friendships. It’s a place where they feel they are part of a workplace family.

Mandy reflected on the type of students they have, “We often get quite young students, many have never worked before, so we ease them into getting used to customers by having them work behind the counter taking orders and payment before they serve food to people in the cafe.

“There are many examples of success.  If you visit a café or restaurant in Nelson, you are bound to come across an ex-NTC student.”

Houdini Tuani is the chef tutor at NTC and he brings, not just huge experience, but also a very calm, low stress attitude to the kitchen.

Houdini has been cooking for more than 25 years, he trained in Auckland before working in hotels and cafes in New Zealand and overseas. “I bought a one-way ticket to Sydney and worked in a restaurant at Bondi Beach for several years and at the Tides in Nelson for seven years before joining the small team here.

“I love working with students, love teaching them how to make restaurant quality food, it doesn’t always work out, but we keep trying until they get it right. As tutors we learn how many mistakes can be made that we didn’t know could be made. The joy they get when they get it right is awesome to see” he says with his trademark big smile.

Tuani, with Chloe King-Turner, left and Cooper Corby

It is quite obvious that Houdini’s calm demeanor has a calming influence on students. “We just make it work no matter what is thrown at us, things go wrong and part of our role is to give the students the confidence to understand that and just make it work without getting stressed about it. When they see us smiling, they smile too,” says Mandy.

Chris added “we can have them experience the satisfaction that comes from having a great day making delicious food and serving it in a café. It never runs smoothly in any workplace, it’s ok to make mistakes. We encourage them to learn how to manage those and do better next time.”

Mandy says, “we always try and turn a negative into a positive, there’s always a lesson to learn from mistakes and we help them learn how to manage the stress of making mistakes without them being too tough on themselves, and we try and laugh a lot too.”

“Every Thursday during term time we run a lunchtime café and there will always be things that go wrong, so we have a debrief after every service to talk about those, and the things that went really well. The support newer students get from their peers who have been with us a bit longer is impressive and empowering.”

I wanted to know what has made NTC so successful for so long as they approach the 37th year mark of the business helping young people.

One of the key themes is that they are small, “that’s our real strength” Chris told me.  “Instead of 30 learners in a classroom with one tutor we have 20 in the whole place and that means we can give them the support they need individually, something one person can’t do in a large classroom environment.

Sweet temptations are on offer every day at the cafe, all made with love and passion by the students

“We make ourselves approachable so we can help them with anything in their lives and facilitate help when they need it. It’s almost a wrap-around facility that also gives them a great pathway to employment. We help them write CV’s and previous students often come back in to do things like practice their coffee making skills before they go for a job interview. We want every person who comes through our training course to come out of here as a more complete person and work ready.”

If you want to see what these young people are learning and have a really good value meal, then the Back Alley Café at the Nelson Training Centre is open every Thursday during term time from 10.30am for coffee, then food from 11am until 1pm (eat in or takeaway).  Be warned, these meals are so popular they can sell out 150+ meals over a busy lunch service, so make sure you get in early.

Published in the Nelson Mail 12.04.2024

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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