From big brekkies to bigger dreams

How a yen for pancakes inspired an exciting career pathway for a North Coast student.

Shelby Booth, a Year 12 student at Mullumbimby High School, has a thing for pancakes. “I really love breakfast foods,” Shelby says when we catch up with her ahead of her HSC exams.

As kids, Shelby and her older brothers and sisters would commandeer the kitchen on weekends and cook up batches of fluffy pancakes for the family. While Shelby didn’t know it at the time, those early experiences in the kitchen would set her on a path towards a career in hospitality.

This year, Shelby will graduate from high school with her HSC, a Certificate II in Hospitality, and some pretty good job prospects thanks to the skills and certifications she picked up along the way as part of her VET training.

So, how did Shelby go from cooking big breakfasts for the family to being where she is now, on the cusp of tertiary study in tourism and hospitality? It really comes down to two essential ingredients: subject selection and good advice.

In Years 9 and 10, Shelby undertook Food Technology and then enrolled in Hospitality for Years 11 and 12, which gave her a great foundation in the field and ultimately led her to embark on a ‘Cert II’ at school. But Shelby also benefited from some great advice from Vanessa Perrin, the Careers Adviser at Mullumbimby High School, and Kelly Spilstead who, at the time, was the school’s VET Coordinator & Head Teacher TAS and is now Deputy Principal.

“Shelby was thinking about a couple of other areas in addition to hospitality to pursue after school,” says Vanessa over the phone from Mullumbimby one afternoon.

According to Vanessa, the accomplished drama student was weighing some creative options, including a performing arts degree, as well primary teaching when the pair first discussed a Tourism and Hospitality degree at Southern Cross University. The course was a revelation to Shelby. It showed that she could combine her passion for hospitality and her creative flair in an exciting industry.

“With her creative arts background, Shelby’s really well suited to a role that spans hospitality and entertainment,” says Kelly, noting that the pair had spoken about job opportunities in hotels, the entertainment industry and even on cruise liners before the pandemic put a dampener on that particular idea.

That said, travel is something that still appeals to the student from Brunswick Heads.

“When I was talking to Ms Perrin, we spoke about how a career in hospitality could lead to travel, which is something I’d love to do—when we can,” says Shelby.

With travel on the backburner for now, Shelby’s immediate focus is finishing her HSC exams and picking up a few more shifts over summer. Shelby’s VET training – and the practical skills and certifications she’s picked up along the way – helped her land casual jobs at Bernardi’s Gelato & Café and Hotel Brunswick, the popular pub co-owned by Delvene Delaney and John Cornell, two former stars of The Paul Hogan Show.

Image: Serving up a Shelby special

“We do a lot of hands on stuff,” says Shelby when asked how her ‘Cert II’ differed from her other subjects.

“We also get a lot of experience. We’ve cooked at the Mullumbimby Show and for the Rotary Club, and we do things like barista training and our RSA certificate.”

It’s exactly that mix of know-how and experience that employers look for, which is one of the reasons so many of Mullumbimby’s VET students secure employment in the area.

“95% of our kids secure ongoing employment from their job placements,” says Kelly.

The other reason is tourism. The North Coast is one of the state’s leading tourist destinations and when we spoke to the General Manager of Destination NSW in Episode 6 of EPPP TV, it was clear there are plenty of opportunities in the area for young people with the right skills. After a brief dip earlier in the year due to COVID restrictions, Kelly and Vanessa report that the local economy has really picked up over the past few months, which is great news for students like Shelby whose casual jobs provide them with valuable income and important social connections.

As for what the future holds, Shelby is currently awaiting the outcome of an early entry application to study Tourism and Hospitality at Southern Cross University and getting set for a busy summer. Thanks to her Certificate II in Hospitality, and her skills in everything from customer service to plating, Shelby is ready to hit the ground running as soon as school’s out.

  • Student management and wellbeing
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