Can-do approach creates brilliant link between Specialist School and hotel chain
"The students have been welcomed so warmly by staff at the hotel and truly feel what they are - valued members of the team."
A groundbreaking internship scheme between Exhall Grange Specialist School in Bedworth and MacDonald Hotels & Resorts (Ansty Hall) has proved a spectacular success.
Under the scheme, which sprung from contacts made through Warwickshire County Council business skills advisor Fay Winterburn, three students from Exhall Grange Specialist School and Woodlands Special School began a 12-month internship at the hotel last September.
Following the resounding success of the initiative, more pupils are expected to join the programme later this year.
The students learned a range of skills which can be used as a platform for future careers in hospitality. Their first taste of the working world also helped them increase their confidence and self-esteem. Meanwhile, the four-star hotel benefited from the input of three capable and popular employees.
"The internships have been amazing for our students," said Caroline Parkhouse, assistant headteacher at Exhall Grange Specialist School. "I first met Kelly Westwood from MacDonald Hotels & Resorts at a meeting set up by Fay, and Kelly's openness and enthusiasm for us to start the internships was inspiring.
"Straight away it was a case of 'yes we can do this.' So much so that within a couple of months it was up and running for the term starting in September. The students settled quickly and soon became valued employees in a range of roles in which they have learned all the required skills and delivered them well.
"You can see the way, during the internships, they have grown and matured as people, as well as learning a range of skills alongside studying for BTEC qualifications. The students have been welcomed so warmly by staff at the hotel and truly feel what they are - valued members of the team."
With the first round of internships having gone so well, the programme is set to be repeated and expanded. Exhall Grange Specialist School sets up and manages the programme but other students can access the programme. Supported internships are available to all students with an Education, Health and Care Plan.
Kelly Westwood, group talent manager, Macdonald Hotel & Resorts, said: "As soon as we had our initial discussion, everybody recognised it was a great idea and we got the project off the ground really quickly. The students worked in various roles, from housekeeping and food & beverage to the kitchen and reception. We’ve seen what they can do, and they’ve all been fantastic.
"The initiative was also a great benefit to the hotel, not just because of the high standard of work by the students, but because of the engagement we had from the individual managers. They really bought into their young colleagues, and many of them became good friends.
“Warwickshire County Council’s involvement was instrumental, and they really helped to support the project.”
Fay Winterburn said: "It is fantastic that the internship scheme has worked so well from everybody's point of view. From the first meeting there was a real can-do approach from Caroline and Kelly and the students and the hotel have both benefited as a result.
"The students are collecting invaluable experience towards their future careers while the hotel has three more excellent members of staff. Connections such as this can really help bridge the skills gap and I am delighted that the council's input was the catalyst for a scheme which will hopefully run and run.
"As a continuation of the county’s support to our specialist schools we will be launching a Supported Employer Group with its first event on Friday 10 May. We would love to see more employers like Macdonald Hotels & Resorts come along to explore how such internship programmes and work placements can work for them and their organisations.
"Every day we see businesses amazed by these students' work ethic, enthusiasm and passion to acquire new skills and we are keen to support employers in learning more and taking those first exploratory steps.”