Diageo’s Learning For Life programme celebrates 10th anniversary

Raising a glass, from left, Diageo Scotland’s Ian Smith, L4L graduate and now training provider Gail Gardner, graduate and bar manager Frazer Wesencraf, ScotGov Minister for Higher and Further Education Graeme Dey MSP, graduate and demon mixologist Chris McLarry, Springboard CEO Chris Gamm, graduate Gary Graham, and graduate Sophie Pace-Balzan.

DIAGEO’S Learning for Life hospitality industry skills programme has celebrated its 10th anniversary with a toast to the more than 6000 people who have graduated from the course.

Launched in Scotland in February 2014 as part of an effort to tackle youth unemployment by creating training and employment opportunities in the hospitality industry, Learning For Life has since grown into a UK-wide initiative equipping a wide range of people – who have faced barriers to employment – with the skills and resources needed to secure a career in hospitality.

Over the course of its 10 years, Diageo has invested £1million per year in the programme, enabling more than 2000 people in communities all over Scotland, and more than 6000 people UK-wide, to receive high quality training that has resulted in 83% of graduates going on to sustained employment, and 90% reaching ‘positive destinations’.

On February 21, politicians, hospitality leaders and Learning for Life alumni came together at Johnnie Walker Princes Street in Edinburgh to celebrate that 20-year anniversary, and hear personal accounts of how lives had been changed by the initiative.

Scottish Government Minister for Higher and Further Education, Graeme Dey MSP, attended the event and acknowledged the contribution Diageo Learning for Life has made to people across Scotland.

“The tenth anniversary marks an important milestone for the Learning for Life programme and I would like to congratulate the thousands of young people who have graduated from the course to work in one of Scotland’s most iconic industries,” said Dey.

“I also want to thank all the employers across the hospitality industry for their involvement in this scheme which has helped to provide life-enhancing opportunities for our workforce of the future.

“High quality training plays a vital role in unlocking the potential of our young people to the benefit of the wider economy which is why programmes like Learning for Life are so important to future growth.”

Diageo’s Learning for Life programme manage, Gillian Dalziel, commented: “The hospitality industry is still struggling with skills shortages and through programmes like Learning for Life, we are supporting the sector as well as creating opportunities for our graduates.

“We would like to thank our delivery partners and all the amazing pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants that have supported the programme through work experience and ultimately jobs for our graduates.”

The lead delivery partner across the 10 years of the programme has been Springboard, a charity that helps young and unemployed people in the UK to find work in the hospitality, leisure, and tourism industries.

Its CEO, Chris Gamm, said: “Not only has Learning for Life changed thousands of lives over the past decade, it has also given a number of graduates life changing experiences.

“As part of their courses, trainees have served the great and the good of the golfing world at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014, worked at Barack Obama’s dinner in 2017, gave a cocktail masterclass to Prince Charles HRH in 2021 and met with First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf in 2023,” said Gamm.

“Learning for Life has also had a huge impact on Springboard’s reach, moving from one team member delivering the programme in 2014 to 26 people all around the UK today. Thank you to all the team at Diageo.”

Among the Learning For Life graduates in attendance was Ayrshire’s Frazer Wesencraf, whose early enthusiasm for hospitality work was regularly blunted by people telling him to get a ‘real job’.

He said that his time with Learning For Life had helped legitimise hospitality as just such a ‘real’ career path, and helped him into managerial roles, from which his ultimate goal is now to open his own venue.

Renfrewshire’s Chris McLarry admitted that before L4L he had been effectively homeless, couch surfing with friends and directionless.

“Since Learning for Life, I’ve never since got to the interview stage without being offered a job,” he reported, crediting the course with both boosting his confidence and setting him on course to be a ‘demon mixologist’.

Sophie Pace-Balzan of Fife had faced an uncertain future after being put out of school over neurological issues that caused tics, but having been taken into the L4L programme, is now working full-time at the JWE itself.

She was in no doubt about what had made the difference to her life: “Someone gave me a chance.”