Choosing a Learning Institution for Vocational Studies

By June Steenekamp

From a young age school goers  are guided by their parents, teachers, and career counselors to make career choices. A huge amount of time is spent on researching careers and careers paths. Even with so much information and assistance available, it is still very difficult to make those choices. Often, once students have started their studies, they realise that their initial career choice is not what they actually want to do. To decide what career to follow is one of the hardest choices in life a person has to make.

As a Training and Development Consultant I often receive emails or calls from parents and friends whose children want to follow a career in Culinary Arts or Hospitality Studies and they ask for my advice. The questions are usually: “What institution do  you recommend?” “What school is the best school to study?”

My standard answer is simple – I cannot recommend a college or institution. The parents/sponsor and student must research and visit various institutions to find out what is the best suited for the student and the career he or she wants to follow. It is not so hard to make a choice on where one should study, providing that one has done thorough research. 

There are many factors to consider when choosing a learning institution, such as location, fees,  accommodation, traveling,  parking costs, extra mural activities offered etc. 

Further to the above considerations,  I have provided a list with tips to follow when choosing a Learning  Institution:

Is the institution accredited by the local regulators or do they have endorsements from foreign awarding bodies,  and do they have affiliations with other institutions or associations? When contacting Training Providers (Learning Institutions) ask them for their Training Provider Accreditation or Centre Approval numbers or certificates. Visit the Regulatory Authorities or Awarding Bodies’ websites or call them to make sure that the Training Providers are legitimate organisations.

Ensure the qualification you are undertaking is registered on a regulatory framework, for example,  National Qualifications Framework (NQF) in South Africa, or for example, if the qualification is a UK qualification that it is registered on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). If a qualification is on a regulated framework, it means that it can be evaluated by regulators in different countries.

Culinary and Hospitality qualifications are occupational qualifications, which means that the programs should be focused on practical skills. If you are, for example, doing a cook, chefs or another culinary qualification, the majority of your time should be learning the practical application of cookery. Ask the institution how many days a week, and for how long every day, you will be spending on practical cookery. If the school spends more time on theory than practical cookery, a red flag should go up. The same principle applies for Food and Beverage qualifications, or Accommodation Service qualifications – the focus  should be on the practical application.

What qualifications and experience do the trainers/lecturers have? Is last year’s best student this year’s trainer; this should raise another red flag! Ask the trainers what work experience they have,  how long they have been training, and how long they have been training at the particular institution.

What is the trainer to student ratio? Find out how many students are in a theory class and how many in a practical class. Practical skills training requires smaller classes than theory classes.

Examine the facilities – are they safe, in a clean and good condition? Are the training rooms well equipped? Ask how many learners have access to a stove/oven/equipment? You definitely do not want to share one stove with five other students!

Ask for a list of names of  alumni  who you can contact to get references.

Ask the institution what are included in the fees i.e., uniforms, knife sets, learning material, examination fees, stationery, excursions, competitions etc.

Does the institution assist learners financially i.e., do they assist with bursaries, scholarships, providing letters for student bank loans, do they have payment plans?

Does the institution provide a workplace experience if it is not prescribed in the qualification requirement? How much time is spent at the institution, and how much is spent in industry? What type of workplace will they be sending you for work experience? Will the Training Provider be monitoring learners while in the workplace?

Does the institution assist the student with finding a job after graduating? What support does the training provider give the learner to finding employment?

Visit the training institutions to get a firsthand feel of the establishment and ask as many questions as possible when contacting the prospective training institutions.

Remember; the more research effort you put in before choosing, the more likely you won’t regret your choice later.