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  • Chef Brad Kavanagh

Mentoring competition entrants adds value to careers and industry sectors

Updated: Jun 10

Image: Chef Brad Kavanagh, Head Chef of RCL FOODS
Chef Brad Kavanagh, Head Chef of RCL FOODS

In the face of South Africa’s dire youth unemployment rate, businesses that host skills-based industry competitions, or are considering such a move, have a golden opportunity to add mentoring of the competitors to their competition processes, boosting the entrants’ skills, their potential for greater success within their chosen careers, and their industry sector’s skills base.

An example of this is the annual RCL FOODS Young Chefs and Young Bakers competitions, where all competitors – not just the winners – are supported, advised and encouraged from the earliest stages of the competition, through to the end.

The RCL FOODS Young Chefs competition was launched in 2021, amidst some on the most challenging situations experienced in the hospitality industry resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. This year the competition was expanded to offer the opportunity to bakers, with the RCL FOODS Young Bakers competition running concurrently with the Young Chefs challenge and following the same practices and processes.

At the heart of RCL’s competitions is a passion for nurturing and investing in young chefs and bakers, and with this philosophy, the company partners with industry associations – SA Chefs Association and SA Bakers Association – as well as service providers and suppliers in the industry, to ensure that the maximum amount of value can be added to the youngsters’ culinary and baking careers, and that their efforts in the competitions are assessed fairly.

From the start, entrants are linked to WhatsApp groups where relevant information, messages of support, and hints and tips are shared with them throughout the stages of the competitions. Online webinars are also hosted to clarify exactly what’s expected of the entrants, helping them be as competition-ready as possible, and making sure they are able to put their best foot forward in the competition and beyond it, in their day-to-day lives.

Taking this concept even further, together with other leaders in the foodservice industry, we made sure we spent time with entrants in the regional finals, when we discussed the wide-ranging opportunities open to them in their careers, whether they were among the competition winners or not. This was enthusiastically welcomed by the entrants, which was extremely encouraging to RCL FOODS as confirmation that our value-adding efforts are on the right track.

Additionally, an overwhelming majority of the competitors also stated that they would definitely enter again because of the wide-ranging support, encouragement, and sound knowledge they were given throughout the competition.

Big Ideas, which is an innovation ecosystem providing training, networks, recognition and funding to teams with solutions to real-world problems at the University of California, emphasises the value of mentoring through the Big Ideas Contest process. And while this is specifically to enhance the standard of the competition entries, the contest webpage outlines reasons to mentor, which are adapted slightly here for our broader context:

  1. Pay it forward. You’ve been there and done that. Share your polished skills set with entrants who are just beginning to mould their innovative ideas.

  2. Make a difference. Competition participants are striving to make a difference within their worlds. You can support their development and enhance their capacity to make a difference.

  3. Get inspired. The competitors you mentor will inspire you about progress and development within your industry.

  4. Network. Your participation will connect you with other professionals who share your passion within your industry sector.

  5. Learn. Mentoring is invariably a two-way relationship. As you share your knowledge and insight with your mentees, they share theirs with you.

Most leaders in whatever industry they operate have had support, encouragement and mentoring as they moved up the career ladder, which in itself is reason enough to be a mentor. But beyond that, mentoring more widely, such as creating opportunities to mentor through a competition process, adds industry-wide value. If your industry is thriving, your company is more likely to thrive too. Over and above the reasons to mentor above, these statistics highlight the value:

  • 84% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programmes (Forbes)

  • 94% of employees say they will stay at a company longer if they were offered opportunities to learn and grow (

  • 87% of mentors and mentees feel empowered by their mentoring relationships (

Ever the genius, Steven Spielberg, got it right when he said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”


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