The real-world IB programme for teens in Sweden
Choosing what to study in your teens can feel like a momentous decision with the potential to shape your life for decades to come. Today, many students and parents favour options with a strong focus on real-world learning.
One course offering experience of the opportunities and pitfalls of working in a dynamic and culturally diverse environment is the IB Career-related Programme in Business and Hospitality Management for students aged 16 to 19.
Career-focused International Baccalaureate programmes have been established for some years. But this two-year programme is still relatively new to Sweden, having been introduced in 2021 at Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL), an historic independent school in a fairytale setting near Stockholm.
“It’s nice to speak with guests from all over the world and get new perspectives and experience different people’s cultures,” says 18-year-old Max Burkinshaw when asked what first attracted him to the hospitality industry. “I think that’s pretty cool.”
His SSHL class-mate William Dahlgren, 19, cites a similar motivation, saying he wanted to experience “the interaction with customers and the ability to find solutions in the moment”.
Max and William are two members of SSHL’s first graduating class to have followed the IB Career-related Programme. Both have multinational backgrounds and can speak several languages.
During their work placements, it became very apparent just how valuable such life experiences and abilities can be at the sharp end of the hospitality industry.
William, half-Swedish and half-Thai but born in French-speaking Switzerland, reveals how he was able to make a good impression on a placement at the Radisson Blu at Arlanda Airport near Stockholm.
“I had a wide range of different nationalities coming to talk to me at the reception desk,” he says. “With the French, I would approach them in a French-cultural way, being very formal and straight to the point. Speaking French also helped with their appreciation of the hotel. With American people, I would interact in a more open and social way.”
William Dahlgren staffing a hotel reception (left) and with his class-mate Max Burkinshaw (right). Photos: SSHL
The art of problem-solving
Max, born in the UK to an English father and a Swedish mother, also lived in Italy for 12 years before arriving at SSHL, where he’s in his second year. In addition to English, he speaks Swedish, French and Italian.
One of his favourite things about the Business and Hospitality Management Programme, which is taught in English, has been learning to collaborate effectively in any situation. He recalls attending a meeting for heads of department at the Royal Park in Stockholm, a hotel specialising in conference meetings
“The general manager was there, the owner, the head of marketing, head of HR, head of reception, head of food and beverage, and head of housekeeping,” Max says. “It was really cool to see how they all worked together to plan ahead for big events.”
William, who has been at SSHL for three years, started off in the school’s IB Diploma but transferred to his current programme “after seeing the practical side it offered”.
Hungry for hands-on experience, he got a real taste of it at the Radisson Blu when two groups of business delegates unexpectedly arrived on the same day.
“Everyone was worrying whether the rooms and dining tables available would be enough,” William remembers. “We decided to divide the guests into two groups. Those who had their accommodation ready would go there first and, in the meantime, we offered dinner to those who were waiting. While they ate, the staff prepared their rooms as quickly as they could.”
Skills he learned in class helped him play a part in “distinguishing what was important and [what was] less important”, William says, adding: “It all turned out well in the end.”
‘Caring, daring and entrepreneurial’
William dreams of working in the film industry, but intends to keep a career in hospitality open by taking an international bartending licence. Whatever the future holds, he believes “a lot of the business aspects I learned throughout this programme will really benefit me”.
“The experience the programme provides makes you more confident about getting yourself out there,” adds Max, who hopes to run his own business in future.
In the near term, SSHL students are set to visit the leading hospitality management institutions Glion and Les Roches, both part of Sommet Education, in Switzerland this June. The two schools are among SSHL’s international partners on the IB Career-related Programme.
Ingrid Schröder, Regional Admissions Manager Undergraduate Programs at Sommet Education, says SSHL’s students benefit from “personalised workshops about hospitality, digital marketing, events management and more”.
Graduating students may go on to study for a business degree at Glion or Les Roches, and one of Max and William’s classmates has already been accepted. The schools take a “holistic approach to developing caring, daring and entrepreneurial graduates” who are in demand as the industry rebounds post-pandemic, adds Schröder.
In Sweden, companies that offer hospitality experience to SSHL students are looking forward to their next intake. Åsa Fredriksson, restaurant manager at Hotell Kristina in Sigtuna, says the teens learn how many opportunities lie in roles behind the scenes, from logistics to branding. “I hope we’ve also shown them to ‘serve as you want to be served’ and that a positive attitude always brings solutions,” she adds.
Lotta Boman, CEO and owner of Sigtunahöjden hotel, says young people entering the industry could find their dream job anywhere from a luxury international hotel to a small Swedish outdoor operator. Having worked in hospitality all her life, she says work placement students can provide the impetus for “sharpening our arguments for what we’re doing – or even changing something if needed.”
And what young person doesn’t want to help inspire change?
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