An innovative and hands-on job skills program has ignited a passion in Yarra Ranges hospitality and tourism for Damien Bongouvert and provided him with much to hone and look forward to when the region re-opens to the hundreds of thousands of visitors it normally welcomes each year.
The 23-year-old has already applied some of his new expertise at his uncle’s vineyard and restaurant at Seville and equally importantly the opportunity has provided him with the confidence and pathway to secure an on-site traineeship in hospitality.
“I never imagined I would have had these kinds of opportunities when I moved to Australia,” he said.
Damien has been working at Killara Estate since arriving from France at the start of the year but only after his mandatory two week’s hotel quarantine.
During a timely out-of-lockdown period, the 23-year-old enthusiastically participated in the Hospitality Jump Start for Jobs program, a joint initiative between Yarra Ranges Council, Cire Services and Box Hill Institute Lilydale.
He then had a window just before the current lockdown to apply his new front-of-house skills at Killara’s restaurant and was delighted by just how much he had learned.
“The course was totally hands-on, covering barista training, food and beverage skills and customer service and responsible serving of alcohol (RSA). The skills are so important to have in any restaurant setting and I was really proud to use them confidently at Killara,” Damien said.
“As part of the front-of-house course Cire had a pop-up cafe day where we served lunch prepared by Kitchen Skills students. It was a great experience and also a fun way to apply our learning.”
Manager of the Killara Estate restaurant Kevin Sheehan said Damien had really benefited from the Jump Start for Jobs program with a new level of competence and knowledge of the sector, and confidence.
Kevin described the Jump Start for Jobs program as a great initiative to help the region’s hospitality and tourism sector rebound from Covid.
“The impact of Covid has been devastating and it is vital that we draw on everything we can to work towards a great future,” Kevin said.
The Hospitality Jump Start for Jobs program comprises two face-to-face training courses focusing on Front of House and Kitchen Skills to help local people learn the essential skills most needed by the region’s hospitality and tourism sector.
Each of the week-long courses is free to those who are unemployed or underemployed and include certificate level components such as RSA.
Front of House is conveniently delivered by Cire Training at Cire’s Chirnside Park Community Hub and Kitchen Skills at Box Hill Lilydale’s lakeside campus.
Keen to build a life for himself in Australia, Damien initially consulted a careers advisor at Box Hill Institute Lilydale who recommended Jump Start for Jobs and then the traineeship.
“It was a perfect fit because I was already working for my uncle and wanted to improve my skills and what I could contribute to the business,” Damien said.
“Everyone in the program has been so helpful and encouraging.”
With an Aussie mum and French father, Damien is from Perpignan at the foot of the Pyrenees and the last major French city before the Spanish border.
Damien has often visited Australia to catch up with relatives and particularly loves the Yarra Valley and “the stunning views from Killara Estate”.
He is excited to be upskilling to help the region’s hospitality and tourism sector rebound from Covid.
“Hospitality and tourism businesses are at the heart of our Yarra Ranges lifestyle and economy. Our cafés, restaurants, vineyards, gardens and other attractions draw thousands of visitors to the hills and valleys, and makes our region such a vibrant place to live,” Yarra Ranges Mayor Fiona McAllister said.
“Having local training providers like Cire and Box Hill Institute means that community members can learn skills locally, then put their hands up for jobs locally and put those skills to the test.”
Due to on-going lockdowns, local businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry, have had to stand down employees, many of whom have sought alternative jobs where possible.
The Hospitality Jump Start for Jobs program helps boost confidence in the sector that they will have access to local staff with appropriate skills when the sector re-opens.
According to Victorian Government pre-Covid statistics, tourism in the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges was estimated to be worth $778 million in 2018/19, representing 7.8 per cent of the region’s economy.
It generated employment of approximately 9,300 people, 9.1 per cent of the region’s employment, directly and indirectly.
The Yarra Valley and Dandenong ranges is the second largest tourist destination in Victoria outside of Melbourne with approximately 6.6 million international and domestic visitors in a normal year.