A Graduate of an Apprenticeship Programme becomes International Chef

Neema’s story shows how far apprenticeship programmes can take young Africans towards skills development and employment opportunities.

Article | 01 November 2021

Neema Charles, 27, a graduate of Tanzania's hospitality apprenticeship programme, was offered a work contract at the five-star Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dar es Salaam before she officially graduated in 2018.

Neema, who completed 60% of her industry training at the Hyatt and 40% of her theoretical learning at the National College of Tourism (NCT), is amongst 75% of apprentices to gain employment within less than three months after graduating.

Neema has set even higher standards for the programme as the first graduate to work outside the continent of Africa. Her journey, however, was marred by setbacks and a global pandemic.

While working at Hyatt, Neema gained a reputation as being a professional and hardworking commis-level chef, which soon paid off: “The executive chef at Hyatt set up a team to work the breakfast station and picked me to lead,” she recalls.

Neema excelled as both a team leader and flexible worker who was able to step outside her role to support in any department, largely due to the training she received in the ILO supported Apprenticeship programme funded by the Government of Norway.

“It’s great because I can work as a commis or pastry chef, I can support the kitchen in various tasks, I can even work in various hotel departments outside the kitchen because I spent my first year of training rotating between the kitchen, front desk, housekeeping, and laundry services as well as food service.”

Neema’s hard work soon paid off with a great opportunity:

“I remember back in 2019 when I first got the offer to work at the Grand Hyatt in Saudi Arabia, this was beyond a dream come true. I was surprised to see that such opportunities were even open to people like me.”  

The future was often uncertain for Neema, who joined the programme after being unable to complete high school and or find employment.

However, her dreams were shattered in early 2020. “Getting the VISA was very difficult as a young woman as the Embassy is very strict about issuing VISAs to young women due to various illegal and dangerous work women are forced into. Just when my process was almost complete in 2020, the COVID-90 Pandemic affected the hospitality industry.”

Travel restrictions soon followed and Neema was unable to leave Tanzania. Even more harrowing was the loss of employment she and her peers faced.

“Hyatt had to let many of us go because there were no guests. I returned home to Mwanza Region, as finding another job was unlikely. It was a very depressing time for me as I was used to taking care of myself and helping my family.”

After six months of searching, Neema finally secured a chef job at a gold mine in Mbeya Region. Neema worked at the mine until June 2021 when she received news that she was offered a job at the Grand Hyatt in Saudi Arabia. “I got a call from Hyatt hotel Saudi Arabia 'saying get ready to travel and start your new job, your VISA is ready.' It was truly a surprise, I had thought that for sure my VISA had been cancelled by now and the job was given to someone else,” she recalls.

Neema is now four months into her new job as a commis chef at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Saudi Arabia.

What is her day-to-day life like now?

“Work starts at 5 am to 9:30 am. After that, I support with preparations for lunch and the many events taking place at the hotel until 6 pm. I enjoy working with my co-workers who come from many different countries, such as Mozambique, Bangladesh, Syria, the Philippines, and even three other Tanzanians.”

The biggest difference for her has been the access to a wide range of facilities and ingredients, which has made her a better chef. “I enjoy making different cultural cuisines, and I now have access to the best ingredients from around the world. At the moment I am interested in Asian fusion and Pakistanis food and can learn from chefs from there using ingredients straight from the regions.”

Neema now has a far better income, job security, social protection, and opportunity for professional growth, which has allowed her great peace of mind.

She however still dreams of opening her bakery back home in Tanzania, but only after working program world and learning from some of the best international chefs. 

Neema still thinks of herself as an apprentice and continues to gain support from her fellow apprentices back home:

“I would not be here if it wasn’t for the apprenticeship programme and would like to encourage my fellow apprentices to use their opportunities to chase their dreams."

The apprenticeship programme in hospitality was launched in Mainland Tanzania in 2014 under the Norway funded SKILLUP programme and is now under the ILO Global Programme on Skills and Lifelong Learning (GPSL3) Tanzania (2021-2022), also funded by the Norwegian Government.