Dining for a Cause, Scarf's Ten Years Helping New Migrants & Refugees into the Hospitality Industry

For many people, your first job might have been in the hospitality industry as a gateway to build work experience or start a career. Over 10 years Scarf has harnessed hospitality to help break down the barriers for young people from asylum-seeker, refugee and migrant backgrounds so they can find work. We spoke with Scarf Co-Founder Hannah Brennan looking back at ten years in review and where Scarf's heading in a Post COVID world.

(Photography: Linsey Rendell provided by Scarf)

Pre-COVID you might have known Scarf's name by their Scarf Dinner events, partnering with Melbourne venues like Garden State Hotel, Higher Ground, UNCLE, Mesa Verde, Ladro, Park Street, Bhang and The Rochester Hotel.

These restaurant partnerships are at the core of Scarf's seasonal ten-week Scarf Dinner programs, in which trainees from asylum-seeker, refugee and migrant backgrounds are partnered with industry mentors who provide hands-on training, guidance and support. "Mentors are really there to foster a safe and supportive learning space for the trainees, Scarf dinners are quite fast-paced and like a real work environment, but you have this really supportive mentor and workmate to shadow you and help 1:1," Hannah explains.

In the past ten years, Scarf has provided over 8,580 hours of paid work experience, helping over 243 young people get a foot in the door in local businesses including hospitality venues and other industries. "I just really loved the hospitality industry and the connections and friendships that I made. I think that the industry can be a really amazing one to be part of. Through my volunteering, I was talking to young people in the refugee community and hearing from them that a big barrier to jobs was having a local reference or local work experience."

"Not coming from a community development or social worker background I didn’t really understand just how many barriers there were to employment for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds, It's been a steep learning curve."

- Hannah tells The Social Catalog.

Scarf prides itself on the individual approach to every trainee, "the idea was always to get people more job-ready, so they could get the job that they wanted, whether it was a hospitality career or whether it was just they wanted to work and support themselves or their family or follow other aspirations. Hospitality can be an amazing career path in itself, or it can be such a great stepping stone into other industries," Hannah explains.

(Photography: Linsey Rendell provided by Scarf)

"Sometimes trainees who are newly arrived have qualifications that are not recognised in Australia. So they are kind of starting off on a back foot or starting all over again and they're not able to find work in that field."

- Hannah Brennan, Co-Founder of Scarf

"We're always focused on working with individuals to establish you know, what are their goals? Not everyone has the same set of goals coming into the program, we're not trying to give them a specific set of skills or get them into a specific job. It is about meeting them where they are at and supporting them through the process. Whether that’s trying to connect them with a hospitality job through our networks, or supporting them to apply for roles in other industries or to move into further study or work placement."

We asked Hannah what effect does the Scarf program have on graduates outside of employment opportunities? "Building confidence is really key, and it's interesting to look back at the early days of Scarf, before I really understood just how varied and complex those barriers really were. One thing that is really common when we interview trainees for the program is that their confidence is quite low. They have often been applying for lots of jobs and don’t get feedback or offered interviews, which is extremely demoralising" she explains.

(Photography: Linsey Rendell provided by Scarf)

Unfortunately, current Scarf programs have been postponed, with their next short course Tasting Plate in partnership with the Melbourne Women's Fund, scheduled for late 2020 or early 2021 (depending on COVID restrictions). "There's only so much we can do online and a lot of the experience through the programs is about interacting with customers, and we want our next group of trainees to get as much as the full Scarf experience as possible." So watch this space, with hope on the horizon will Melbourne's easing of restrictions, we can't wait to support Scarf Dinners in the future.

But how can you support them now? We might have heard about their upcoming, limited edition merchandise, in partnership with local artist Olana Janfa. The merch drops soon and will celebrate Scarf's 10th birthday while helping to fund programs. "We're also encouraging people to keep supporting their local restaurants. A big concern for us through COVID is if the hospitality shrinks and at the moment it's just such an incredibly tough time for restaurants. If you can, support the restaurants that have partnered with Scarf in the past because we want them to come out the other side of COVID, so we are able to continue doing what we do."

"The hospitality industry supports and employs so many people from refugee and new migrant backgrounds, a lot of whom have been locked out of government support, so there's just a huge flow-on effect by supporting your local restaurant."

- Hannah Brennan, Co-Founder, Scarf

Check out Scarf's partner restaurants to order from now through Stay Home With Scarf or follow Scarf on Instagram to hear about the Scarf Turns 10 merchandise.


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