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Nescot’s Supported Interns have been hailed as ‘transformative’ by the head of the college’s on-site catering provision.

Nikki Inns is the General Manager for Aramark, which runs Nescot’s refectory, shop and Starbucks, and said having students working in the kitchen has had a ‘huge’ impact on the business.

“The students are a pleasure to have in the team,” she said. “They are learning a lot and making great progress, but, our team is learning just as much.

“The students are making a huge impact on their colleagues, the students, and the business overall. It’s transformative.”

Aramark has two Supported Interns working in the kitchen, and one on work experience. The three students all have additional needs, including learning disabilities, autism, ADHD and Down Syndrome.

They are working on a range of tasks, from food preparation and cooking to serving customers and handling money, depending on their interests and future career goals.

“The biggest change in the students has been in their self-confidence, and their self-belief,” said Nikki, who has a 37-year career in catering and operations management.

“They are challenging us to make sure we’re genuinely inclusive, as a team and as a business, from how we give instructions to how we support the students’ needs while stretching them to reach their potential.

“Having a greater understanding of learning needs and neurodiversity is also helping us to think about our customers in different ways, from the environment we create to how we interact at the till.”

Head Chef Dee said he has been so inspired by working with the Supported Interns that he is now running the London Marathon for Mencap. You can read more here.

“The students are a joy to work with, and I hope as a mentor I am able to teach them, to support them, and maybe even to inspire them a little bit,” Dee said.

“Our students are reliable, honest, hard-working, and they really care about learning, and doing the best that they can every day.”

Nicola is one of the Supported Interns, and she said the best part of her placement is getting to help with baking items including flapjacks, cookies and brownies.

“All the staff are really helpful,” said Nicola, who also works part-time as a kitchen porter. “If I have a question I always know I can ask. I like being part of the team, and I’m learning a lot.”

In addition, Aramark is providing work experience opportunities to one Level 2 student and three Level 1 students from the Professional Cookery department.

They are working from 8am until 3pm one day a week, working on their knife skills and hygiene knowledge, under the supervision of Head Chef Dee.

A Supported Internship is a year-long course aimed at helping young people with additional needs to develop the personal and professional skills they need to find long-term paid employment.

Specially-trained job coaches do their best to match the interns to a job that fits their skills and interests, and the students then spend up to four days a week at their job and one day at college.

The students’ jobs range from working in hospitality to horticulture, and placements are also offered within the college if this is a better fit for the student.

Foundation Learning job coaches support the students throughout, visiting their placements frequently and keeping a record of their achievement as they progress.

The internships also give the students the opportunity to develop core skills, such as self-confidence and communication, as well as helping them to think about which role would suit them in the longer term.

During their one day in college per week, the interns follow a personalised study programme, which includes English and maths as well as work skills, such as interview technique and writing CVs and cover letters. 

The English and maths lessons are tailored to what the students are doing in their placement, such as working on counting change for customers, or writing emails to colleagues.

At the end of the programme students graduate into paid employment. If this isn’t available at their placement then job coaches help them to find paid or voluntary work elsewhere.

Applicants must have a current Education and Health Plan, be aged at least 18, and have a strong desire to work. You can find out more about the course here.

Nescot’s Foundation Learning department offers a wide range of qualifications aimed at supporting students to reach their full potential. You can find out more here.