MANY of her peers in the hospitality management course were heading straight to university after completing their diploma studies, but Temasek Polytechnic graduate Rachel Aw (right) decided to take on a job as management trainee at the Les Amis Group of restaurants after completing her three years of study.

Now, Ms Aw, the franchise operations manager for the group, also has a hotel administration degree under her belt - from the renowned Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, no less.

The 28-year-old is glad that she took the path less travelled by working for five years before heading for a degree. "Now, looking back, I am glad I went out to work first. It allowed me to hone my skills and knowledge and discover where my interest and talents lie in the industry," she said.

After just six months at Les Amis, her employers recognised her interest and knowledge of wines, and made her a commis (assistant) sommelier. Then, in August 2007, she became a fully fledged sommelier at La Strada, the group's Italian restaurant.

Just 22 then, she was one of the youngest people here to become a fully fledged sommelier. The group also agreed to co-fund her education at Cornell when she told them of her plans to study for a degree.

"By then, I knew I wanted to stay in the industry, but I also wanted to learn more so that I can do more. That's why I decided to go for a degree. The scholarship from Les Amis helped me get into one of the best hospitality schools, which I could not have afforded financially," she said.

When she came back after 21/2 years at Cornell, she was made assistant general manager of Canele Patisserie, the group's pastry arm. Recently, she was moved to the franchising business arm of the group.

She believes it is possible for young people to progress in the workplace, but stresses that bosses must provide support. "I was lucky to have started with a company that believes in investing in its people. You need that if you are going to persuade young people to stay and grow with a company."