Leading local hotel group, Fortis Hotels, has successfully pioneered a training programme to qualify and then employ trainee chefs that are hearing – impaired. “We wanted to find a way to upskill and empower trainee chefs and thought what better way to do this than by assisting a handicapped group and creating a completely new category of opportunity for them. The feedback we have had has been incredible and the way that the staff in our kitchens have welcomed and assisted the ‘deaf chef’ trainees has been really exceptional, “says MD of Fortis Hotels, Derick Tait.

Fortis Hotels prides itself on being a family business with extensive training and skills development programmes. During 2015, the “Deaf Chefs” initiative was spearheaded by Fortis Hotels’ MD, Derick Tait. “The programme has been a dream for a while as we have had a deaf chef in our employ for about 8 years and he is a great asset to our team,” says Tait. “With our staff conference held in January we decided to make work of it.  We invited Trans Oranje School for the deaf to attend our conference and to train our staff on basic sign language and we hosted some of the deaf pupils from the school to interact with our TEAM.  It was an eye opener on how the two groups became one and enjoy each other’s company.”

Fortis is being assisted by the Trans Oranje School to select and place the chefs. “We place one chef per hotel and the kitchen staff are taking the individual under their wing and assisting and training the deaf chefs to fit into the kitchen environment,” says Tait. “We have used our long time deaf chef to facilitate to process and to mentor the young chefs in the workplace.  He will be doing regular trips to each hotel to ensure the young chefs are happy and adopting to the workplace.”

“Basic sign language training has been facilitated by the Trans Oranje School for the deaf.  The staff also have a pocket card with the basic signs.  The interesting thing is that the staff and the deaf chefs find their own way of communicating – so special to watch, it is all about caring for the person and the rest will fall into place,” he continues.

When asked about how the hotels’ staff have embraced the programme, Tait says that “Our hotels and staff have been amazing and really go out of their way to assist the deaf chefs on all levels.  We have name badges for the deaf chefs to indicate that they are deaf, just in case a guest tries to communicate with the individual.  We can always do more, I know but we are committed to these individuals and growing this initiative to assist as many deaf individuals as possible.”

*Pictured is Chef Sibongile Msize who is part of Fortis Hotels’ programme for hearing-impaired chefs

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