Late last year, Matthew Vass had the opportunity to be a real waiter in a restaurant for the very first time.
Following weeks of training, the big night finally arrived and he put his new skills into practice, serving his family at William Blue dining: setting the table, taking orders, clearing plates and, Matthew’s personal favourite, napkin folding.
“I enjoyed helping,” Matthew said. “I was doing great as a waiter.”
Matthew was one of the participants in the pilot ServeUp program, a Torrens University Australia initiative in the spirit of Here For Good, which was conducted in partnership with Rose Bay Secondary College and William Blue Dining in late 2019.
ServeUp is a program driven by the hospitality faculty to support students with disabilities to develop transferable skills and abilities to assist them gaining employment. Following a successful pilot last year, with phenomenal feedback from participants and stakeholders, we are working hard to ensure the program can continue.
Inspired by activities occurring across the organisation, the Rocks Campus Director David Whyte and Senior Learning Facilitator, Hospitality, Jarrod Main resolved that we, in hospitality, could do more to support the Here For Good strategy and really live our values.
We realised that there is a massive underrepresentation of people with special needs in hospitality, which compelled us to step up in this area. Moreover, people aged between 15-64 years with disability have lower labour force participation and higher unemployment rates than people without disability. These statistics made us uncomfortable, and we wanted to create an initiative to drive change in this area – which is why ServeUp was created.
We developed the project in close collaboration with Rose Bay Secondary College, particularly the Inclusive Education Faculty, who helped support their students to participate in ServeUp. We ran weekly workshops for ten weeks, teaching restaurant service skills: everything from napkin folding, to setting tables, clearing tables. The program culminated in a celebration dinner at William Blue Dining, with students serving their families.
It has been important throughout the ServeUp program that every participant was celebrated for their skills and abilities, and that they could see how what they had gained from the program would enable them to contribute to any industry, not just hospitality, after leaving high school.
We have had incredible feedback from participants and their families. Rebecca Vass, Matthew’s mum, said that all of the kids loved having a go at the program, and that they really felt a sense of support and achievement.
Any opportunity that gets Matthew and his classmates out into the environment, dealing with other people, dealing with roles and jobs and things they can achieve is an amazing experience – but this one blew us out of the park,” Rebecca said.
“It was just the most phenomenal thing, Matthew enjoyed it every time he went.”
ServeUp is one of a number of programs at Torrens University creating opportunities for people with disabilities, and part of a broader effort to embed an understanding of disability and accessibility in the infrastructure of the organisation. Late last year, a Disability Special Interest Group was formed to drive forward these efforts, including by bringing together different programs across the organisation, such as ServeUp, Impact21 and TAC’TICS, to create cohesion.
We want to be a safe, supportive, inspiring space. We want to be a university where people of all abilities can excel,” said Emma Donaldson, Senior Learning Facilitator, Education, and Chair of the Disability Special Interest Group.
Although the current COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements have delayed the next intake of students for ServeUp, the development around the program has not slowed down. After the pilot concluded, a successful feedback session was conducted with key stakeholders.
The ServeUp team are now, along with other amazing TUA staff, working hard in preparation for its future delivery. Developing links with key industry partners, designing a suite of digital media to support learning and expanding the program to further support participants needs and involve of our current Torrens University students are just some of the exciting focus areas for the ServeUp initiative. This will ensure a successful continuation of this essential initiative we hope, far into the future.