BALLARAT Specialist School staff are always on the look-out for practical and collaborative work experience opportunities for their Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning students.
When senior school administrator Katie Howard and work experience coordinator Loretta Robinson brainstormed businesses to approach this year, they thought a call to former BSS teacher Ben Decis could be a great place to start.
“Ben and his family have five Country Grocers IGA supermarkets, so we could explore whether he was willing to take on students,” Ms Howard said.
“But Ben already had a proposal for us. He’d thought about it, in the hopes one day he could provide a work experience program for students.”
Throughout term three, a group of 11 year 11 and 12 students, many studying retail and hospitality, have participated in this pilot program for three hours every Wednesday at the Skipton Country Grocers store.
Mr Decis and his staff have supported the young people to gain a strong understanding of how to work in a supermarket and how they operate, while developing retail skills, which could lead to better employment pathways for them.
During each shift, the students were tasked with the fundamentals; walking around the store to observe staff and the site, spot any tasks needing to be done, and identify where stock might be low.
In small groups, they then worked with a staff member at the cash register, to stock or rotate shelves, or put sale tickets around the store.
“This is not just a one-off placement. They’re learning so many transferable skills along the way, which they can put on their resume, whether they’re applying to work in a supermarket or not,” Ms Robinson said.
“It’s very rewarding seeing the smiles on their faces, seeing them develop, achieving, learning, and remembering what they need to do.”
Year 11 student Sky said she was enthusiastic to take up the challenge, as she’s from the Skipton area and was interested in the potential of ongoing local employment.
“I’ve been really happy to be there because it opens up doors for life,” she said.
“I like helping the community, speaking to the customers, and working with the staff, knowing that they’re there to help you when you’re unsure of something. They’re really nice.”
Because of the small format of the Skipton store, which doesn’t get overwhelmingly busy, Mr Decis said it’s an ideal training and learning hub.
“You get the full experience of working in a supermarket without the hectic nature of a big chain. It’s a quieter environment for them to learn at their own pace,” he said.
“Our staff Ashlee, Courtney, Kate, Jess, and Beck have driven the teaching and debriefing, offering one-to-one, or two-to-one experiences, to the students.
“It’s an introduction to retail, and now the 10 weeks are up, the kids might decide it’s not for them, but at least they know because they gave it a go, and the only way they can give it a go is if employers offer them opportunities like this.”
Mr Decis is confident he will be able to offer at least one of the students a job now the program is complete.
Ms Howard said school staff were grateful to him for his generosity, and for giving students the chance to learn and shine.
“We want to showcase the amazing things our students are doing. We’re really proud of them for stepping out of their comfort zone and giving things a go,” she said.
The students’ hands-on learning has been complemented by weekly online modules in areas including food safety and bullying in the workplace.