Coffee, cake and career experience

By Fiona West | July 23, 2021

​A partnership between Navitas English Canberra and a local social enterprise café has served up some valuable hospitality and customer service experience for refugee and migrant women, with a side of English lessons.

The project, involving 22 female clients in the *AMEP’s Certificate in Spoken and Written English (CSWE) level 2 course, ran over a term and included classroom preparation and planning, culminating in hands-on experience at the café split over two days in June.

Café Stepping Stone is a social enterprise based on the outskirts of Canberra in Strathnairn Arts, which supports vulnerable, refugee and migrant women to gain skills and confidence to enter Australia’s workforce.

Navitas Trainer Deanne Penman said it was the perfect setting for the women to learn new and practical skills and apply them through teamwork in a real-world setting.

“The aim of the exercise was to enhance client’s language, literacy and numeracy skills and to provide some experience in the customer service/hospitality industry,” Deanne said.

“Preparation throughout the term included relevant vocabulary exercises and discussion relating to food, imperative verbs, food handling and hygiene, WHS, customer service vocabulary and workplace communication, as well as understanding social enterprise.”

The women were guided by café staff, rotating in small groups through activities including baking scones and banana bread, making date balls, and creating barista-style coffee.

“When we finished baking everything we sat on the tables and enjoyed eating the scones and banana bread which we baked earlier,” Navitas client Rahida said.

“In the end they gave us a special opportunity to serve real customers. It was a great opportunity and we enjoyed it.”

Deanne said the women were required to use language and literacy skills – reading recipes, using relevant vocabulary (such as frothing, ingredients, whisking, beating) – as well as testing numeracy skills, with measuring, weighing and temperature setting.

“Also their customer service skills involved taking orders, writing down orders, communicating with each other and conversing and communicating with customers,” she said.

Café Stepping Stone owners Vanessa Bretell and Hannah Costello said it was rewarding to watch the women grow in skills and confidence in their cafe.

“They all really enjoyed it and were very positive, really enthusiastic, so it was really nice to work with the class,” Vanessa said.


“As well as baking food and making drinks, they all got a chance to get some customer interaction, taking orders, and serving.

“We really want to give opportunities to women and people who have come from refugee backgrounds. A lot of them have had such a difficult time just getting here. Their lives have been stopped and started, they’ve been separated from family, so we really want to just provide a safe comfortable space for them to grow and develop in whatever way they wish to.

“They are such resilient people and inspirational and we feel quite honoured to be able to work with them and get to know them and get to know their stories.”

Rahida said: “This project gave us more confidence and was really beneficial for us.


​​​In the end, everything was great and we learned a lot of skills and we lived that day as real employees in a real cafe environment. We’ll never forget that and we hope to do similar projects next term.”

 *The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) is a free service to help eligible migrants and refugees with low English levels to improve their English language skills and settle into Australia. Navitas English has been delivering the AMEP since 1998 on behalf of the Australian Government.

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