Protea Hotel Balalaika Sandton initiates industry internship programme for the deaf

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Protea Hotel Balalaika Sandton, in alliance with the University of Johannesburg’s PsyCaD division (Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development), St Vincent’s School for the Deaf, and the HTA School of Culinary Art (HTA), has launched an internship training programme for deaf and hearing impaired students in a bid foster career opportunities in the hospitality and tourism industry.
What began as a simple investigation into the employment prospects for hearing impaired and deaf school leavers, has evolved into a pilot project that plans to revolutionise employment practices in the hospitality industry.
When Nancy Gaylard, training manager at Protea Hotel Balalaika Sandton discovered a 75% unemployment rate countrywide for those with hearing impediments, she approached Maria Ramaahlo at PsyCaD. Together, they began working to adapt courses in the tourism and hospitality industry to allow for the admittance of deaf students.
The hotel’s management quickly agreed to a pilot training programme, while PsyCaD funded a sign language interpreter. St Vincent’s School for the Deaf came on board as advisors and partners, and HTA owner and South African Chef’s Association president, Stephen Billingham is providing training on the HTA’s one year Day Release Certificate Programme In Cookery. This work-based qualification will result in a City and Guilds International certification and NQF Level 3.

“Currently, St Vincent’s has a cooking course, with a handful of those students expressing an interest in professional cookery as a career choice. Next year, Balalaika will take those students on as services apprentices. From the HTA side, we are gearing ourselves to take on deaf learners for the first time. We are training our staff in sign language and have made available additional classes should these be necessary,” says Billingham.

“This is going to be a learning curve – there are many things we take for granted – being able to speak to someone when the pressure is on is just one of them. We are really excited to be part of this project, and will adapt and learn as the students become entrenched in the school.”

January 2015 marks the first intake of deaf interns at Protea Hotel Balalaika Sandton. Ingrid Parkin, the principal at St Vincent’s School for the Deaf has been working closely with Gaylard, offering insight and practical advice necessary to ensure the safety and best opportunities for interns. Four learners from the school have been spending four hours each week job shadowing in the hotel’s kitchen in the build up to the launch of the official pilot programme.

Five managers and three kitchen staff members have passed level one sign language tutelage, and will be attending level two next year. By the end of 2014, 16 staff members of the Balalaika will have been on the level one sign language course. Gaylard says that attending the signing course is completely voluntary, and the hotel is sponsoring any staff member who wishes to participate in a bid to teach the majority of the hotel’s staff sign language.

One of Hotel Balalaika’s interns will be reading for her Hospitality Management National Diploma. The three year course will be completed on a part-time basis, and she will work at the hotel, building practical hours over the period.

The response from guests at the hotel has been extremely encouraging, says Gaylard, and the hotel has embarked on an extensive marketing drive to both educate guests on the programme, and equip them with basic signing tools to allow them to communicate with interns. “As our management and various staff members become more fluent in sign language, we feel confident that there will never be a disconnect between deaf staff and hearing guests,” says Gaylard. “What we weren’t expecting, was the way in which our guests embraced our trial programme. The experience has humanised us, allowed us to see a bigger picture, and given guests and staff the opportunity to interact and successfully communicate with the deaf.”

Based on the success of the pilot, Gaylard hopes to build a case for similar internships to be embraced throughout the hospitality industry.

“Protea Hotel Balalaika Sandton is committed to the process of integrating deaf and hearing-impaired interns into our organisation. We are also extremely grateful for the support and insight provided by our partners in this venture, and look forward to creating an industry that provides inspiring careers for deaf professionals,” says Protea Hotel Balalaika’s general manager Jörg Zwinscher.

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