Chilliwack and Sardis students learning tricks of the trades

Chilliwack's Secondary Apprenticeship Program giving young people hands-on, workplace experience

Earl's head chef Jonathan Leyland and baker Elena Schroots both believe Chillliwack's Secondary School Apprenticeship Program can set young people up for a promising career in their chosen field.

Earl's head chef Jonathan Leyland and baker Elena Schroots both believe Chillliwack's Secondary School Apprenticeship Program can set young people up for a promising career in their chosen field.

Kids want to learn.

But for many students, the knowledge they seek can’t be found between the covers of a textbook. They want to know how to build things, and how to fix things. They crave the ability to create something from virtually nothing, to turn a vision into a reality.

And the only way to learn this way, is by digging in and getting those hands dirty. Trying and failing, and then trying again and succeeding.

And there is no place to better test your mettle than a fast-paced kitchen, with real life customers. Earl’s Kitchen and Bar in Sardis has become a bit of a testing ground, says head chef Jonathan Leyland.

And more often than not, Chilliwack’s students are passing the bar. Starting in Grade 10, students have the option of joining the Secondary Apprenticeship Program. It’s a perfect option for kids who love working with their hands. The program works in conjunction with regular school schedules, and students earn credit — and money — while they learn on the job.

Right now, Leyland has eight students working for him, out of his staff of 105 employees. He works hard to find the right placement for them, and they put in about three shifts a week.

If a student works hard, and wants to follow through to become a Red Seal chef, they can accomplish that goal by the time they’re 20 years old, Leyland said.

But even for those who don’t want to achieve Red Seal certification, it’s a fine way to gain course credits, complete the requisite work hours for graduation, and to possibly save money for post secondary education. Students at Chilliwack and Sardis secondary schools can take on jobs in a multitude of industries. As long as it’s an apprenticeship-based workplace, it’s considered.

Over the years, many students have found their first careers. Some of those found their calling right in the Earl’s kitchen.

“A good portion of the students continue in the industry,” Leyland says.

It helps that the community is supportive of the concept.

“Chilliwack is unique that it is very invested in this program,” Leyland adds.

It’s also supported by the province. Chilliwack School District just received $30,000 from the Industry Training Authority for the Secondary School Apprenticeship program support for the 2015/16 school year. In 2014-15, 1048 students registered in SSA programs across B.C. representing an increase of more than 10 per cent over the previous year.

Elena Schroots is a 2015 Sardis grad, and continues to work for Leyland following graduation. She heard about the program through the district’s apprenticeship coordinator, teacher Colin Mitchell. While she isn’t planning on working in a kitchen forever, she’s enjoyed the opportunity to work her way through high school, and to continue working through university. Unsure what the future will bring yet, this semester Schroots is studying psychology and English part time at UFV.

But back at work, she’s one of the bakers behind the scenes. Earl’s makes its own breads, desserts and pastries from scratch, right on site. She’s one of Leyland’s top bakers, and proud to see how she’s improved over the years.

On top of knowing her way around a busy, industrial kitchen, Schroots said the opportunity has given her work skills you can’t get in the classroom.

“I learned how to self evaluate,” she says, in a way that only real life work can prepare you for. She can see where her weaknesses are, and know that it only means she needs to improve.

And it helps that the kitchen is a little more laid back than television leads us all to believe.

“I think the perception is probably more than the reality,” Leyland says. “Yes it is hard work but it’s also very rewarding.”