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Pacific students pursue global recognition

Pacific correspondent, Sean Dorney, follows a group of food and hospitality students in Samoa.

In the Pacific getting qualifications that are internationally recognised can be a challenge.

But now an Australian backed aid project is helping turn out graduates with skills they can use at home and abroad.

Pacific correspondent, Sean Dorney, followed a group of food and hospitality students in Samoa as they faced a demanding test.
SEAN DORNEY, REPORTER: There has possibly never been better food served to weightlifting officials during an Olympic trial competition in the entire history of weightlifting. Hospitality and cooking students from the Australia Pacific Technical College in Samoa catered for the event at the Commonwealth and Oceania Weightlifting Championships. But it was not planned this way.

STEPHEN JOHNSTON, CHEF TRAINER, AUSTRALIA PACIFIC TECHNICAL COLLEGE: Good experience, great experience for them. We thought we were doing a dinner down at the restaurant and all of a sudden, times and things changed and some last minute adjustments. That's hospitality. Hospitality is always changing, and very challenging. They'll get a lot out of this.

SEAN DORNEY: This is Visions Restaurant on the college campus where the students spent the day preparing the evening dinner, which was supposed to be served right next door to their kitchen. But the weightlifting went well over time and they were told the officials would not get there until close to midnight.

RACHEL FOX, HOSPITALITY TRAINER, AUSTRALIA PACIFIC TECHNICAL COLLEGE: The look on their faces was just awful, you know, and I said to them, 'Look, you know, we'll do our best. We'll go out there, we'll have a look and see what we can do. Just pack up, be ready to move everything.' And by the time Steven and I got here and then got back, they had everything packed ready to go. And I said, 'Yep, we're doing it, this is what we're doing.' And they were clapping and cheering. They were happy that it was all still going ahead.

SEAN DORNEY: The students come from all over the Pacific. A Samoan campus has been operating five years.

FRANCIS HOWES, PRINCIPAL, AUSTRALIA PACIFIC TECHNICAL COLLEGE: And we're delivering training in the exact same qualifications that Australian students receive at let's say a TAFE college. So they're the identical qualifications. So the people who graduate with these qualifications are internationally competitive and they are able to help to build the Pacific to be more internationally competitive in this global world we exist in.

SEAN DORNEY: Some see it as an opportunity to work in Australia.

MILO ISHMAEL MMANA, HOSPITALITY STUDENT FROM PNG: I would love to. Definitely I would love to work in Australia and some other places as well.

Currently I just apply for a cruise ship and I'm just waiting for that reply.

SEAN DORNEY: But despite initial expectations about getting employment in Australia, most go back home.

FRANCIS HOWES: We've had a lot of students who thought that's what they would do before they started the course. Many, many students say to us, 'I want to go and walk in Australia or New Zealand.' The reality is that a very tiny percentage have actually made the move.

Some have done so successfully, but the 98 per cent, I think, from our tracer studies, stay in their own country; even if that wasn't what they intended when they started.

SEAN DORNEY: Faaolatage Iona, a student chef from Samoa, says her plan is to open a restaurant.

FAAOLATAGE IONA, STUDENT CHEF FROM SAMOA: That's why I'm here and get some - get to know how to run a business and to manage the kitchen staff. I go back to my working place and I look forward to start a new business, yeah, to support my family and also my kids.

SEAN DORNEY: It is not just cooking and hospitality that students learn here. There's Australian level training in plumbing, refrigeration, and air conditioning.

MICHAEL MOLER, REFRIGERATION TRAINER, AUSTRALIA PACIFIC TECHNICAL COLLEGE: They've been able to go back to their country of origin and work in the businesses for their companies. And it's enabled those companies to tender for different types of contracts that they wouldn't have done before.

There's a wonderful story in Tonga, from one of my graduates from Tonga, and that company has now successfully tendered for a couple of European Union contracts that they wouldn't have been able to before. They missed out on them before because they had to have employees with that qualification.

DEV REDDY, STUDENT TUTOR FROM FIJI: It's a wonderful experience. Every day in our trade we got something new that comes up. So the learning in this trade will not stop. As long as I'm here, I will be learning.

SEAN DORNEY: People from around the Pacific wanting to study at the Australia Pacific Technical College have to already have a job before they'll be accepted.

FRANCIS HOWES: We're not taking school leavers. We're looking for people who have already had experience and/or training in their industry.

SEAN DORNEY: That has annoyed some.

Australian Chris Booth, who runs Samoa's SeaBreeze Resort, praises the quality of the graduates, but says the training of those already employed hurts business.

CHRIS BOOTH, SAMOA'S SEABREEZE RESORT: We lose those people that we put time into for them to get improved. But I'd like there to be a system where they come out of school and they start getting trained in hospitality.

FRANCIS HOWES: That's inevitable. I mean an employer struggles with ever giving up an employee anywhere in the world because often it's their best employees that are the ones they recommend for this sort of training and professional development. And yes, they need to come here; and because we have to do the course in a very concentrated period of time, we are requiring them away from their workplace for six week blocks at a time. But that's very similar to how an apprenticeship works in Australia or in any other training.

SEAN DORNEY: Stephen Johnston, the trainer of the chefs, says the enthusiasm of the students is one reason he has been at the Samoa campus since day one five years ago.

STEPHEN JOHNSTON: Most of the students are coming here with some experience, so we're polishing them up. Some students find it a bit of a struggle because they're not used to the standard that we set, but I make it very clear at the beginning the standards are very high and they do achieve them.

We've turned out some very good students in the past. And there's nothing more satisfying than going out to a restaurant and seeing some of your dishes on the menu. So you know that it's getting out there and slowly improving what's on offer to the general public and to the tourists.

SEAN DORNEY: Back at the weightlifting, a room has been decked out by the students for the serving of the main course.

RACHEL FOX: They have their times where they struggle but they never give up and they put in 150 per cent into absolutely everything they do. Anything you ask for them, they will go that extra mile.

SEAN DORNEY: The officials from various Commonwealth and Pacific countries certainly appreciated the quality of the meal.

OFFICIAL: Sensational. I've just come from London for 24 hours, so this is a perfect way to finish my very short trip to Samoa. So it's fantastic. Thanks. Excellent.

SEAN DORNEY: One was the former president of Nauru, Marcus Stephen, a gold medal winning weightlifter himself, and he was impressed.


SEAN DORNEY: And the president of the world weightlifting body thanked the students.

TAMAS AJAN, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL WEIGHTLIFTING FEDERATION: Thank you to everybody. Excellent. Thank you very much. Really, great. So tasty everything.

RACHEL FOX: The students love doing those sort of things, you know, where we get out of the restaurant and try. It's a bit more challenging when you don't know, you know, the area, you don't know the venue, etc. Yeah, it was a good night. (Laughs).
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