A year ago, Conor Harrison-Luby was a waiter at ASK Italian, Chelmsford in Essex. Today, armed with a year-long Level 3 Hospitality Supervisor apprenticeship, he has made the giant leap to assistant manager at the restaurant, owned by the Azzurri Group – market leaders in the casual Italian dining sector, comprising the ASK Italian, Zizzi, and Coco di Mama brands.
Conor has fulfilled the first part of his career ambition en route to one day owning his own restaurant. He has become the first Azzurri Group employee to earn a distinction grade in all four end-point assessment elements of his apprenticeship.
A delighted Johanna Keith, Azzurri’s Education and Apprenticeship Manager, says: “We are thrilled for Conor. His distinctions are well-deserved; it’s fair to say he was always brilliant. From the first meeting with him, you could see the potential and he has gone far and beyond all expectations.”
Conor’s fine achievement not only reflects the Azzurri Group’s recent glowing Ofsted report for the quality of its in-house training, but also the success of ASK Italian’s relationship with end-point assessment provider Professional Assessment Ltd (PAL).
“Conor deserves special congratulations for being an outstanding apprentice, demonstrating an extremely high level of knowledge, skills, and behaviours,” says PAL Managing Director Linda Martin. “He has thoroughly earned the rarely awarded distinction grades in each of the apprenticeship’s four end-point assessment elements: the multiple-choice questions, the observation, the business project, and the professional discussion.
“To achieve his across-the-board distinctions, Conor has been robustly and rigorously tested by Vicky Fitzgerald-Lombard, one of our highly experienced, independent team of end-point assessors. I know she deemed Conor’s Business Project to be one of the best she had ever encountered from a Level 3 Hospitality Supervisor apprentice.
“The PAL end-point assessment priority is to be objective and impartial, without ever being adversarial. Our end-point assessors are ‘like the driving-test examiner’, but with a difference. We go out of our way to understand the apprentice’s needs and requirements fully, while meeting the requirements of the assessment plan.
“Conor’s end-point assessment result proves that he has more than grasped the opportunity to showcase his talents and demonstrate his quality to ASK Italian. He is a shining example of the success of the Azzurri Group’s website employment pledge: ‘Join us and you’ll be supported 100% in your career journey whatever route you choose to take and however far you’d like to go’.”
Given the group’s training objective, it comes as little surprise to learn from Johanna that ASK Italian enjoys a sixty per cent rate of internal promotion. Indeed, she says, “Two of our Level 3 Hospitality Supervisor apprentices are now general managers.
“We have now started a small pilot scheme for senior production chef entrants. This is designed to enable people, new to becoming a chef, to take the huge leap to becoming a sous chef. We hope this will prove as successful as the Hospitality Supervisor apprenticeship in giving employees like Conor a real jump start to their careers.”
Why did Conor decide to take the apprenticeship route?
“My operations manager mentioned the apprenticeship to me,” explains Conor. “He knew that I wanted it to help me move into the role of assistant manager. He told me the apprenticeship was a well-structured route. He believed it would be appealing to an academic mind like mine and I would get a lot out of it, which indeed I did.
“It meant I could go on a year-long, very well set out and well-structured course. It gave me a lot of time for learning, for getting exposure to insights into the working practices of the restaurant, for attending head-office workshops, and for visiting different sorts of restaurants with my operations manager to see how they were run.”
“As Conor says,” adds Johanna, “the structure really suited him. It is important to match the right programme with the right person, which is why we do quite a stringent interview process at the beginning of each apprenticeship. This really worked for Conor and he thrived off the apprenticeship.
“He has gone far and beyond on every aspect in it, which is brilliant! He has been doing so many extra-curricular things. He even sat opposite the Ofsted inspector, who visited us, and extolled the virtues of the Level 3 Hospitality Supervisor apprenticeship. Earlier that day, there was a training session for new general managers, and Conor also told them all about it!
“He has built around himself an almost ambassadorial role, promoting apprenticeships. He is well known by restaurateurs in the Essex area and we may well have an explosion in the county of people taking up apprenticeships! Thanks to Conor, currently we have two apprentices being interviewed.”
What did the apprenticeship and the end-point assessment involve for Taylor?
The four core areas of the Hospitality Supervisor standard are business, people, customers, and leadership. An apprentice will have a specialism, which for Conor was hospitality outlets supervisor.
The main elements of Conor’s end-point assessment, provided by PAL, were
How prepared was Conor for undertaking the apprenticeship and the end-point assessment?
“The support I received from Head Office, my general manager, and my very own in-house trainer who helped me at every stage of the apprenticeship, helped me come away with the Level 3 Hospitality Apprenticeship qualification,” says Conor.
“PAL was absolutely brilliant in preparing and examining me for the end-point assessment (EPA). At the initial planning meeting, PAL end-point assessor Ioana Dincu informed me really well about what the end-point assessment involved and what I needed to do to prepare for it. She was very kind.
“Vicky was equally good. She knew exactly what it means to go through something like this. I never felt intimidated once. Vicky made me feel really comfortable throughout the end-point assessment process. While observing me in a very busy restaurant, Vicky was so non-intrusive. She was brilliant at undertaking as natural a practical observation as possible, without ever getting in the way.”
Flexibility is a key element of PAL’s end-point assessment process. This approach enabled Conor to choose to undertake the business project and Presentation, and the professional discussion face-to-face with Vicky, rather than remotely via a webinar.
From the employer’s perspective, Johanna Keith was equally impressed. “From meeting the PAL team, it is clear they work in hospitality and totally understand the business. They know what we are getting at when they walk into the restaurants to undertake apprentice observations. They know customers are our number-one priority. You won’t find a PAL end-point assessor standing in the restaurant with a clipboard or anything weird. They know how to observe our people, like our managers do, and they blend into the background.
“Every single apprentice who has been through end-point assessment says they have forgotten PAL assessors were ever there. Blending in and having these key observation skills are really important, so as not to put the apprentice under pressure or make our customers feel ‘oh what’s going on over there’.”
The success of the end-point assessment relationship with PAL is well illustrated by Johanna. “Conor’s results speak for themselves,” she says. “He was the first to get a distinction in every single element, so I don’t think anybody could have been more prepared than Conor.
“PAL really supported us in our gateway process to end-point assessment with everything from setting mock multiple-choice questions and mock business projects, to providing all the necessary resources for helping make Conor feel confident about end-point assessment.
“They provide literature and materials for apprentices to look through and make sure they know what’s coming. Having all this up front is great. The initial planning meeting with Ioana Dincu for Conor’s end-point assessment meant everybody knew exactly what to expect, so there were no big shocks at the end of the process.
“PAL are very friendly and understanding to deal with. One of the great things PAL does is that they provide collective, rather than minute, details on how each apprentice has performed, such as the themes they are passing on and getting distinctions in. This means, as trainers, we can really focus on putting extra coverage in to these areas to enable each future ASK Italian apprentice to benefit from a better quality programme.”
Conor found the PAL end-point assessment went “incredibly smoothly”. What did he like best about it?
“The Business Project,” he says. “It was incredibly challenging but I learned so much from it. It has had a positive effect on my restaurant. I focused on coffee and dessert sales and how different selling techniques affect different sales. I fed back my findings to my operations manager and other ASK Italian restaurants, which has had a positive impact on the business.”
The apprenticeship process has done much to boost Conor’s confidence in the workplace. “I no longer doubt my abilities, whereas about a year ago I would probably have said I won’t be able to do this and probably shy away from it.”
What tips would Conor give other apprentices going through this course?
“Ensure you are 100 per cent ready before you undertake the end-point assessment. If you feel you need more time, don’t be afraid to ask for it. With ASK Italian, it was fantastic having Johanna and trainers there with me throughout my apprenticeship journey to ensure I was ready.
“You need to have gleaned all the knowledge you require before the end-point assessment, so make sure all your questions are answered before it. Once the assessment is underway, you are on your own.
“Read your business project at least 10 times. Once it is completed, read the business project through to your family, friends, and co-workers and get feed-back.
“Make sure you are comfortable going into exam conditions – one of the biggest things for me was I hadn’t been in that situation for such a long time. It is worth practising being under exam conditions.”
The example Conor has set, with his outstanding end-point assessment result, is impacting on the business.
“Conor started with us as a waiter,” explains Johanna, “and, before he had actually completed his Hospitality Supervisor apprenticeship, he stepped into the assistant manager role at the Chelmsford ASK Italian restaurant.
“It is fantastic to have someone with all that ability, knowledge, and skills, who is clearly engaged with the brand and passionate about his Italian food and culture. He is a perfect fit for his new role. We never had to think about recruiting anyone externally, which was great.
“Obviously, success breeds success. All the ASK Italian team can see that if they want a career in hospitality and want to progress, then shining examples like Conor are around them to show it’s possible. Everybody has the opportunity of moving up and getting to the position they want.
“The Level 3 Hospitality Supervisor Apprenticeship is a detailed, structured way of progressing your career. Conor is having a great impact on the Essex area. There’s not a restaurant manager in Essex who doesn’t know who Conor is. There is nobody in our central team who doesn’t know who Conor is. He is quite famous! He advocates this programme, he advocates learning and advocates ‘yes, I want this’.”
What advice would Johanna give hospitality industry businesses and organisations looking for apprenticeship end-point assessors?
“We did look hard, as we were looking for the right cultural fit,” explains Johanna. “PAL ticked all the boxes, with their obvious care and warmth, genuine interest and expertise in hospitality, and thorough understanding of the workplace. They have really clear communications channels. They always let me know what’s going on and they are very patient with me, which is great.
“I am not the most technologically gifted person in the world, but I’ve found the PAL website portal for accessing apprenticeship information and resources to be very easy to use. No requests are ever too difficult for the PAL team.
“It feels PAL genuinely care about the apprentices. They are very happy to work with us, and we with them.”
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