Quality, consistency and services: Thoughts and perspectives from MasterChef judge and founder of Sharky’s restaurant chain, U Ye Htut Win, on Swisscontact’s pioneering Dual Apprenticeship Training model in Myanmar.
Dual apprenticeship training is implemented under Vocational Skills Development Program (VSDP of Swisscontact) for cooks and agricultural machinery mechanics occupations based on the Swiss dual training approach. The apprenticeship training integrates core and advanced technical skills, as well as other essential competencies, such as life skills.
What were your first thoughts when you were approached to partner with Swisscontact for the cook apprenticeship?
“I, myself was trained in Switzerland. The uniqueness of Swiss training lies in its quality, consistency, and service-oriented approach. I knew that this was something that could improve in Myanmar’s hospitality sector.
The diversity of our country is very rich. We have beautiful old pagodas, beaches, forests, landscapes, history, and many different ethnic groups and subgroups. We also have regions with vastly different climates. But what we need to work on is improving the quality of our products and services, ensuring a uniform experience and providing good customer service, which is exactly what Swisscontact can deliver for the apprentices.
So, the moment Swisscontact came to me, and after finding out that the apprenticeship was based on the Swiss-model, I was keen to become a partner. Currently, two of my staff are participating in the dual apprenticeship training.”
In what ways have the apprentices brought value to your workplace?
“I want my current apprentices to retrain the other staff, so that their technical expertise can be passed on. To minimise a ‘brain drain’ in young people, we need skills development and employment opportunities. This is what I hope Swisscontact will create for future cooks in Myanmar. Because once a brain drain has set in, the county’s development will not continue, and we will always have to work with sub-standard skills.
If someone is trained in a kitchen to Swiss standards, they will bring a certain level of ‘Swissness’ into the kitchens that they work. This will then help to bring our Myanmar cuisines, hospitality services and restaurants to another level. This is why I think apprenticeships are very, very important.”
As someone who is famously known in the country to have revolutionised the way ingredients are handled, and as a MasterChef judge, what knowledge do you pass on to your peers at your workplace?
“To be a cook, you must have good skills, techniques and hygiene. But, a cook without good ingredients cannot produce quality food. What I have created at Sharky’s is the paint, the ingredients for the cook, so that they can take their art to the next level. They can create added value by using quality products.
The ingredients used at Sharky’s is also its uniqueness; from the farm to the table. We grow our own vegetables and we select our own cattle. 95% of Sharky’s ingredients is made here in this country. I consider this to be my biggest achievement.
In the beginning, I was considered someone who was trying to achieve the impossible. The phrase in Myanmar is ‘ma phyit naing bu’, meaning ‘it’s impossible’. So, as a MasterChef judge, the one thing I told the candidates is that I cannot put up with this ‘ma phyit naing bu’ mindset. Impossible does not exist. One needs to strive to turn something impossible into something possible. Through striving, and learning from your failures, one can make anything happen. This is the mindset I want people to have.
It’s not about simply teaching basic culinary skills, it’s also about discipline - coming in on time, knowing how to keep the oven at optimal temperature, knowing how to position a cup of coffee in a certain way when serving - the smallest of details can matter most. And that’s where standards improve; it’s from start to finish. Small details can make the difference between first and second place.”
As a pioneering training approach, in what ways do you think the dual apprenticeship training model can contribute to skills development in Myanmar?
“I truly believe that Myanmar needs apprenticeship training. It’s high time we emphasise the importance of workplace learning and the teaching of life skills that can actually serve a purpose in the working world. For the next intake, I will send three or four more of my staff to be apprentices.
When I was working in Switzerland, my skills were mostly self-taught. I did not have the privilege of being an apprentice; I had to start as a cleaner. But I was curious. I read, I observed, and I pushed myself to become who I am today. I told the two of my staff who are apprentices that they have a privilege that I didn’t have. While I can only teach them some skills, the apprenticeship course can give them a solid and well-rounded foundation. If they embrace the opportunity, their lives will be changed for the better. This also means that the effects of skills development will spill over into the rest of my business within a few years time. The more staff I have trained with Swisscontact, the higher the return.
So whether it’s at an individual, company or country level, apprenticeships are a win-win situation. We need more initiatives similar to Swisscontact’s, which implement resource-effective programs and promote the wider skills development in Myanmar.”
The cook apprenticeship training is currently working with 7 hotels and restaurants in Yangon. The apprentices go through an 18-month dual learning in the workplace and classroom with regular skills tests.