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Jack jumps into the deep-end

Monday, 14 Oct 2019

Written by Kate Green, journalism student, Massey University Wellington 

Jack Prince is perched on a stool behind the counter, the cafe itself deserted. The sound of children yelling bounces and echoes around the pool on the other side of the glass wall, and the cafe looks out onto blue water, red lane dividers, and yellow kickboards.

The espresso machine rumbles into life and Jack reaches for a takeaway cup, moving confidently and adeptly. When he turns to get the milk out of the fridge his movements are slower, but then he’s back at the machine and frothing the milk with a look of deep concentration.

Whir, whoosh, clink.

And the coffee is delicious.

Born with a disability, Jack, 17, isn’t letting that slow him down as he prepares to head out into the workforce. He spends a couple of days a month working at Deep Cafe at Upper Hutt’s indoor swimming pool, H2O Extreme - making coffee, serving customers, and preparing food as part of his hospitality training.

Through Capital Training, a private training establishment offering qualifications under the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), Jack and other students are given the chance to spend time in the cafe gaining skills, experience, and NCEA credits toward a hospitality qualification.

With the emphasis on giving kids the experience employers want, the placement develops classroom learning into real skills.

Capital Training resource developer, Rodney August, said the staff were dedicated to enabling youth to succeed.

“Watching a young learner like Jack succeed, develop in confidence and build his skill set is one of the main reasons why we do what we do. Getting to try the coffees that our learners produce is also a perk, I must admit.”

Jack said he would “definitely” feel more confident applying for jobs after his placement at the cafe.

At Capital Training, the students are treated like adults, Jack said. “They rely on us to be self-motivated, but if we start to fall behind they get on our case, which is fair enough.”

Jack was born with cerebral palsy, which affects his movement and makes standing for extended periods quite difficult.

While it was good to learn his limits, he was surprising himself with his capabilities, he said. “Today I was standing for an hour and a half or so. Usually I can’t do that, last time I was really struggling to stand for so long.”

Cafe manager, Sheryl Meads makes sure to accommodate Jack’s additional needs so he's comfortable at work. She said that while she wouldn’t normally let a student sit down behind the counter, Jack was given his own chair.

The cafe’s involvement with the students began through a programme called Start Up, a joint endeavour by Capital Training, Upper Hutt City Council and Heretaunga College.

“There’s a real need for young people to be given the opportunity to get out into the workplace and gain real-world experience before they start job seeking,” Sheryl said.

Jack Prince and Cafe Manager Sheryl Meads talk about his work placement experience.

The cafe was approached by the council in September last year, and began hosting students for a few days a month to give them the experience and skills needed for a hospitality job.

The students can learn in a quiet, low pressure environment. The cafe is the “perfect place for training,” said Sheryl, as it’s quieter during the week.

“It’s a nice way to start out,” Sheryl said.

They perform tasks like food and coffee preparation, baking, and stock-take, as well as operating the till and interacting with customers.

“It’s quite challenging working with the young ones,” Sheryl said, as they don’t have that much experience when they first start.

That's quickly gained, though, and the cafe has gone on to employ a couple of the students we've previously hosted, Sheryl said.

According to Jack, the hardest part was learning how to use the espresso machine. “When I first used it, it was very scary, but after getting lots of experience I know what I’m doing now.”

“I got feedback from the people at the course, I made about six coffees, and they were all perfect,” he said, with obvious pride.