Heart NSTA/Trust certification takes chef on the high seas
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Having overcome the challenges of poverty and now travelling the world as a junior executive chef aboard a cruise ship, Javann Riley is inspiring young people to become certified in a technical or vocational skill to improve their job prospects.
The 25-year-old, who received level-three certification in Commercial Food Preparation (Chef de partie) at the HEART/NSTA Trust’s Boys Town Vocational Centre in 2018, is employed on Virgin Voyages’ Resilient Lady, where he helps to oversee the team of cooks and kitchen workers in day-to-day food preparation and meal services.
To date, the young man has travelled to more than 100 countries around the world and is a proud representative of Brand Jamaica.
“Brand Jamaica is so big… I have been to Asian countries and somebody heard us speaking, shouted ‘yard man’. He wasn’t Jamaican but he listens to our music a lot… Jamaica is a place where everyone loves,” Riley said.
The youngster said getting certified was the breakthrough he desperately needed to change his circumstances.
He recalls the hard times growing up in Tower Hill Lane in Olympic Gardens but noted that the challenges “taught me how to improvise and be innovative with the little I had”.
His grandmother, aunt and uncle, with whom he lived, did the best that they could, but due to financial challenges he had to drop out of high school in grade nine.
Reflecting on his life today, Riley said that he is grateful to his uncle, Aston Riley, for being the voice of reason and positivity during those difficult years, encouraging him to continue his education, and at the age of 17, he completed seven Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects.
His love for cooking began while he worked at a small cook shop on Constant Spring Road in St Andrew.
“It became something that burned a passion in me that I didn’t know was there, and from then I took it seriously,” he said.
Riley eventually enrolled in the HEART/NSTA Trust’s culinary programme, but again faced hurdles in acquiring the utensils needed to complete his cooking assignments.
“The teacher [had given] us this assignment where we had to plate our meals… but I didn’t have any. I got the idea to borrow the plate used by the student being assessed first and that’s how I got my first official grade. From there, I continued asking for help,” he said.
Riley noted that the support he received through the HEART/NSTA Trust’s Apprenticeship Programme was invaluable in enabling him to complete his certification.
“The programme was really good… I’d recommend it to a lot of youths. It allows you to work and fill out a timesheet [and] HEART provides a stipend,” he said.
Additional support came from members of his community and individual sponsors, which boosted his determination to succeed.
“That’s when I realised that [no matter where you are from], if you have ambition, people will reach out and help you. People will help you once they see that you want to become something,” Riley pointed out.
“I cried so much and told myself that no matter how hard the course becomes, I will pass it,” he said.
After completing his certification, he landed a job with the Virgin Voyages cruise line at the age of 20.
Chef workers on ships can be engaged for up to 10 months annually and Riley said that his career has allowed him to enjoy travel, food and meeting people from different cultures.
“On the one hand, it takes you away from family… but it teaches you how to manage stress and builds you to be a strong person,” he noted.
Riley is taking the lessons learned to connect with more of his peers and inspire them to become certified in a skill. Some, he points out, are already certified in electrical, construction and the culinary arts.
“[My story] showed them that it’s possible and that you can stay in Jamaica and use HEART as a stepping stone to accomplish a lot [and] get a job offer from overseas,” he said.
Riley wants to become an ambassador for the HEART/NSTA Trust and take the message of certification to young people across the island.
In the future, he intends to open his own restaurant in Portland, but for now he is enjoying the experience of working on board the Resilient Lady.
Currently, all tuition fees are waived for HEART/NSTA courses up to level three (associate degree).
This move by the Government will allow for access to vocational training for all Jamaicans, regardless of economic status.