Cooking in quarantine: 
VSDP Cook apprentices learn valuable skills 

07.01.2021
Cook apprentices of the Vocational Skills Development Program (VSDP) in Myanmar have shown that even in the face of extreme adversity there lies opportunity. Whilst thousands of jobs have been lost and every economic sector affected by the COVID-19 virus, the tourism and hospitality sector has arguably been the worst hit. Hotels, bars and restaurants have been forced to close and as a result thousands of people have lost their jobs.

The 24 cook apprentices were also negatively impacted by this, many of whom were forced to take unpaid leave until such time that their employers could reopen their businesses. Consequently, the apprentices working and learning was temporarily put on hold as they were placed in a situation where they were unable to obtain the necessary practical work experience required. The apprentices are all from extremely poor households and many families rely on them to contribute money towards making a decent living.

At the same time, the Myanmar government was struggling to contain the spread of the virus. Infections were rising daily and the quarantine centres were under pressure to feed more and more people each day. The VSDP, recognized that there was an opportunity to open the professional cooking kitchen located at the Government Technical Institute (GTI) in Insein, which has been temporarily converted into a quarantine center and get the apprentices to cook one meal a day for the approximately 400 people being quarantined at the centre. This would allow the apprentices to practice and learn new skills and at the same time support the Myanmar government by providing healthy meals to the people being quarantined at the centre. The fact that the kitchen is located within the GTI Insein quarantine compound is ideal, as it removed the need to transport food from one location to another.

The project was costed and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) funded the initiative for a period of two months. Before, implementing the project however, several plans had to be made. Menu’s needed to be developed, quantities of food calculated, food costed and delivered and importantly a bubble created at the kitchen to ensure the safety of all those participating in the project. To make the environment safe it was decided to split the apprentices into two groups, with each group working a one-month shift and residing at the centre for the duration of the shift. The two shifts would rotate and while one group was busy at the kitchen cooking, the second group would continue with their online theoretical learning.  

On 09 November 2020, the project began with the first shift of apprentices and their trainer moving into the centre and beginning their one-month shift.  After a month, the shifts rotated, and the second group began their shift.

This initiative has not only played a valuable role in supporting the Myanmar government to provide 400 meals a day to people in quarantine but has also allowed the apprentices to learn valuable skills. The apprentices have learnt how to cater for large numbers of people, to order and receive food, to check quantities, to check invoices and order forms and to store food safely and hygienically. It is believed that the experience which the apprentices have gained and the skills that they have learnt during this period will stand them in excellent stead to make a successful transition into the labour market.

Dual apprenticeship training delivers on- and off-the-job training over 18 months to apprentices based on the Swiss dual training approach. It is one of the components of the VSDP which aims to promote improved livelihood opportunities for women and men in targeted areas and occupations in Myanmar. The Program is implemented by Swisscontact and financed by the SDC.