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25 June 2020

How Champion Shae White got her cooking groove back

Even a year ago, Shae White must have felt the world was at her feet.

Just 18, she had already found a job and had been picked to represent Barbados for Cooking at WorldSkills Kazan 2019, where she went on to win Best of Nation.

Soon after she became the youngest member of the WorldSkills Champions Trust, representing the Americas, while back at the hotel and continuing her studies. Then came COVID-19.

Today life for Shae has changed beyond recognition. Coronavirus closed both her hotel and college, while a medical condition meant further restrictions.

“So that was just it for me,” she says. “As an asthmatic I was advised to leave work earlier as a high-risk person, so pretty much since March, I’ve been at home, and I was out of school as well.”

But if there are challenges, then Shae has risen to them, as she recently told the first WorldSkills Conference Talk.

“Hospitality is a very demanding job. It’s all in or not at all,” she says. “And then with school being a very practical course, there’s not really much you can do in terms of practical examinations online.”

You can watch Shae speak about her experience at the official United National Headquarters event for World Youth Skills Day 15 July. This year's theme is Skills for a Resilient Youth in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond.  


“So the biggest challenge is coming to terms with online learning and trying to get back into the motion of being essentially normal from a complete standstill.”

Or as she sums it up “Just getting back into the groove.”

Keeping up her studies from home required real discipline. “This is a space that you are most comfortable in,“Shae says.

“To put yourself into the frame of mind of being productive and being efficient and doing school work – it’s been a bit of a balancing act. It’s been very difficult but I am getting accustomed, and pushing through."

Her experience of trying to study online has been mixed. “In a subject like mine you can only do so much on online learning .There’s also the case that everyone learns in different ways.”

“There are going to be people who will not be able to grasp certain projects through a screen. Some people need that hands-on approach, that one on one with a teacher going through something step by step, so it’s definitely been a learning experience.”

Fortunately, Shae is a quick learner. It’s also helped that her chosen skill has been her passion since childhood.

“I honestly never fathomed being anything but a chef from the time I was eight years old,” she recalls.

“I told my parents, this is it for me, this is what I want to be, and obviously at that age they were really certain I was going to change my mind.

“But 12 years later I’m still here. This is all I’ve ever really wanted to do.”

It also means there’s been no regrets that a different career path might have served her better in the current crisis. “The thought of having to pursue another career is extremely daunting, because my entire school life was oriented to being a chef,” she explains.

Her strategy has been to make the most productive use of her unexpected downtime.

“The way I've been coping is actually to try to utilize more online learning skills. In this time when at this time when everyone is basically at home, there are a lot of institutions that are offering free online courses, so I’ve been trying to get back into that and trying to learn as much as possible about my given field.”

Her objective is to return stronger than ever “so that when we are getting accustomed to the new normal I’m not completely blindsided!”