Coffee courses boosting language and working skills

Warren Mendola handed out certificates to the participants in the Migrant Barista Program on Monday 20 June having graduated from the eight week course. Picture: SUPPLIED.

By Mikayla van Loon

A coffee making course with a difference has helped a group of young Burmese migrants to learn the skills of a barista while developing their English.

The course has been so successful with organisers now hopeful local cafes in the Lilydale, Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges area would be willing to take on graduates for work experience and volunteer hours to help them gain confidence and eventually a job.

Program coordinator Warren Mendola began liaising with local Burmese leaders in 2021 to establish a hospitality training initiative having identified a skills shortage in their community.

Due to Covid-19, however, the program kept being disrupted and so it was delayed until term two this year.

Using the facilities at the Central Ringwood Community Centre, students learning English at Box Hill Institute and people from the Burmese community took part in the eight week ‘Migrant Barista Program’.

“It’s about learning how to make a great coffee, while learning customer service skills and building up your confidence and self esteem to be able to work in hospitality,” Mr Mendola said.

“What I noticed at the beginning of the term of the Migrant Barista Program was that there was just an absolute fascination with how coffee is made.

“These students didn’t really understand the concept of grinding coffee and then going through a coffee machine and steaming milk. It was really, really beautiful to see that fascination.”

Funded by the Department of Education, Mr Mendola said he hopes the course can be something the community centre offers each term.

For five of the students who graduated on Monday 20 June, most in their mid to late 20s, the aim is to get their first job.

“Some of the students say ‘I’ve never worked a day in my life, but now I can do this program and I feel confident enough to go and start cold calling and start applying for jobs’.”

Over the eight week course, Mr Mendola said he came to know each of the participants really well and has now offered to be a reference on their resume as they begin looking for work.

While the main focus is about job ready skills, for some of the participants it has been about gaining an extra skill that they can take to their local church or because it has connected them with another group of people.

“The goals are up to the students about what they want. Ideally it’s getting a job and for some of the students, that’s definitely the goal for sure.

“Part of it too, is just building those connections in the community. Because if you’re in a new world, the more connections to places, services and people you can make, you’re probably going to have better outcomes on employment.”

The next part of what Mr Mendola is hoping to do, with the help of the Migrant Information Centre and Jobs Victoria, is to enquire with local cafes about work experience opportunities.

“I’d love for a cafe to be able to give one of these students an opportunity to come in for a week or two and get that hands-on experience without any pressure of them feeling like they had to employ them,” he said.

“If you volunteer somewhere and people notice that you make great coffee, for example, or you have really good customer service, it probably increases the likelihood of employment.”

Not only would it allow students to practice their skills but to become familiar with point of sale machines, taking multiple orders and understanding how a cafe operates.

Available to anyone, no matter their age, Mr Mendola said one student who has signed up for next term has been attending Box Hill Institute to learn English and is in her 60s.

“There’s no barrier around ages or anything like that…Anyone can come along because it’s not just about learning to make coffee, it’s about feeling connected, it’s one extra place that these people can come to where they feel part of the community.”

At the heart of the community centre’s philosophy, Mr Mendola said, is providing a safe and welcoming space where migrants feel comfortable to come for any of the classes or programs, so they can form friendships and build their English proficiency.