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Short Orders – Dealing to dyslexia in the kitchen


Liam Wilkie got a taste of what he wanted to do in life when he helped prep food for weddings and events at a family friend’s catering business in Hawera. The experience when he was just 12 years-old inspired him to study hospitality and cookery at school. Now, at 21, he’s close to completing his chef apprenticeship at the Copthorne Hotel’s upscale One80˚ restaurant overlooking Oriental Bay in Wellington.

“The idea of being a chef appealed to me because it’s a career where you can travel the world,” says Liam.

To help him overcome his dyslexia, ServiceIQ has given Liam a helping hand by putting a very special pen in his hands.

Dyslexia runs in Liam’s family. Both his father and his twin brother are dyslexic and cope with it well, says Liam.

It’s the same for him, except for when he needs to write quickly and clearly.

“Mainly it’s the spelling that slows me down. When I’m writing the produce and grocery orders, it takes me more time than it does other people,” says Liam.

“It’s the same problem when it comes to the written part of my apprenticeship programme which involves quite a lot of theory.”

Liam, who is developing his career with a ServiceIQ New Zealand Cookery Apprenticeship, gets regular support from his assessor at ServiceIQ, Chris Treacher.

“He’s really helpful and gives me good advice. He doesn’t pressure me and lets me do things in my own time” says Liam.

When Chris noticed that Liam was struggling with his written assignments, he called on the expert services of ServiceIQ’s Learning, Literacy and Numeracy Specialist Di Boss, who arranged for him to have a screening test and then supported an application for funding to get a high-tech Smartpen and note pad for Liam.

The sleek, ergonomically designed pen works by capturing everything that Liam writes and everything that is spoken. Inside the pen is a camera that takes a picture of his notes as he writes them. It also has a built-in microphone that lets him record and playback what is being said.

For slow writers or someone who has difficulty taking notes, or simply wants to record the speaker, you simply tap a “record” icon at the bottom of the pad and the pen will record what is said from that moment on.

It’s like a magic wand for Liam.

“It’s helping me a lot with my writing and it helps me remember stuff. I can write things down, such as a recipe, and when I click on key words with the pen, it will read them back to me," he says.

“If my head chef is giving me instructions and is speaking quickly, I can record him on the pen and play it back to rejig my memory. A lot of the chefs tell me recipes when we’re busy working in the kitchen and I don’t have time write them down, but having the pen makes this much easier.”

Short orders Liam Wilkie circle ServiceIQ also arranged for Liam to have a mentor who helps keep him on track with his book work and is available to answer any questions he has on maths and other course topics.

Liam was lucky enough to go straight from his hospitality course at high school into a cookery apprenticeship at the Copthorne Hotel.

His favourite ingredients are aromatic basil and star anise, and he thrives on being able to experiment with new flavours and recipes.

“I love the feeling of taking something out of the oven to see how it turned out. We have a lot of freedom to create our own food and each night we come up with a different amuse bouche,” he says.

Liam has just one more year at the most before he becomes a qualified chef ready to travel the world.

To other young cooks with dyslexia, he says: “Don’t give up. Push on. If you feel like giving up talk to a close friend. There are a lot of people who have achieved huge success. It just shows that they are that much more determined to achieve their goals.”

If your business uses ServiceIQ on-job training programmes and think one or some of your employees could benefit from LLN support, please contact ServiceIQ on 0800 863 693 or email

For more information about Adult Literacy and Numeracy go to: Adult Literacy and Numeracy and read the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Plan here