Skills Northern Ireland has a new feature for 2018 – an Ambassador Hub, sponsored by Belfast Met, where local apprentices, employees and graduates will be available for young people to speak to. This will give visitors the chance to find out more about particular career paths directly from people who have already been down that route.
Max Johnston is a chef at one of Belfast’s best restaurants, Shu, after deciding that the Pharmacology course he was undertaking wasn’t for him and turning to his passion as a possible career path.
Read our interview with Max to find out how he went from studying at university to earning while learning with Shu’s “Chef Apprenticeship Programme” – even scooping Apprentice of the Year in Hospitality & Professional Cookery at the Belfast Met Awards this year.
What first encouraged you to do an apprenticeship?
The apprenticeship at Shu was such a fantastic opportunity, to learn in one of the best restaurants and colleges in Belfast. After doing my trial shift in Shu, and seeing the vast amount of seasonal ingredients and feeling the energy during an evening service, I was hooked and wanted more.
Why did you decide to change from a pharmacology course to a chef apprenticeship?
While I found aspects of my formal education interesting, I couldn’t call it a passion. I’ve always enjoyed eating good food but through cooking and reading at home after my studies I wanted to see if I could make a career out of my newly discovered passion.
Through my apprenticeship I fell in love with working with my hands and with a team, being able to nurture my passion into a professional career.
Could you tell us about your apprenticeship experience? What did it involve?
I spent two days a week in college, and through a mixture of practical and theory classes I learnt the basics. College also gave me the time and freedom to read more about cooking and compete in competitions.
Two or three days were then spent in Shu, building on the knowledge from college and learning modern recipes and techniques, working with some of the best chefs in Belfast.
This was a fantastic way to be introduced to the industry and allowed me to acquire an appreciation for the basics of cooking.
How did it feel to win Apprentice of the Year 2018?
I was not expecting the award in any capacity! It felt great to be recognised for doing something I enjoy.
What key bits of advice would you give a young person today who is starting their career?
Find your passion! Work hard and enjoy what you’re doing, everything else will come with time.
Why would you encourage young people to visit events like Skills Northern Ireland?
It highlights other career paths available that you might not have considered and provides an invaluable opportunity to network with people in the industry.
Come along to Skills Northern Ireland at the Titanic Exhibition Centre on 7 & 8 November to meet Max and our other Ambassadors and speak to them face-to-face.