Too few cooks spoil the broth


Too few cooks spoil the broth

Too few cooks spoil the broth

HGEM Managing Director Steven Pike explores the challenges associated with chef shortages.

There is a skills crisis in the hospitality industry. Whether operators are Michelin starred restaurants or local takeaways, they are all reporting a struggle to find and keep qualified chefs. There has been plenty of speculation on the causes. Some blame the kitchens, which have gained a reputation for being an aggressive working environment, and others the recruits, who arrive with misconceptions of hospitality born from celebrity chefs and television programs and are unprepared for the passion and dedication needed to begin a culinary career.

Whatever the reasons are, the recruitment crisis is set to continue to worsen in the coming years. In 2012, a £1.75m “curry college” scheme failed to take off after it attracted less than half the targeted number of recruits. Currently, 51% of catering colleges report having seen enrolment drop over the past few years, and there’s little sign of this trend reversing.

And although those looking for chefs seem to be having the most difficulty, the perception of hospitality as a ‘revolving door’ industry has seen front of house positions suffer the same fate, with recruitment problems reported for frontline staff as well.

If Government schemes and traditional education pathways aren’t providing sufficient incentive to for people to consider careers in hospitality, operators are going to need to reassess how they recruit, train, and retain their staff. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s those who have themselves been attracted to culinary work who know best how to appeal to others. Hospitality recruitment business, Urban People, states that ‘Many chefs … identified the need for modern training schemes in order to provide a realistic experience of the lifestyle a chef adopts when they choose that particular career path’. Traditional learning methods alone are no longer sufficient, either for finding applicants suited to hospitality, or for giving interested trainees an accurate portrait of restaurant work. Chefs already working believe that experience that is practical and hands-on provides a better chance of recruiting and retaining staff.

The importance of training programs as a recruitment tool is becoming increasingly clear across the entire industry and beyond, not just for back of house staff. Millennials, an age group that typically makes up a substantial part of the UK hospitality workforce, have been reported as particularly partial to training and career development as an incentive for employment. They have a reputation for job-hopping, but it’s in pursuit of the right opportunity. Purplecubed are doing some great work to help hospitality businesses to engage with their staff and nurture talent, whilst HospitalityGEM can help with advanced learning management software and support to help structure training pathways and track completion.

Next year, hospitality operators are going to be given the chance to provide the right opportunity to a substantial number of prospective trainees. The Apprenticeship Levy will be introduced in April for businesses with a payroll over £3m (download a useful guide from HIT). Businesses who take advantage of the levy will be able to claim money back against apprentices on training programs – those who don’t can just treat it as a tax. It’s a controversial scheme and it remains to be seen if its introduction contributes to the provision of the realistic, representative on-the-job training that the hospitality industry needs to help combat the current skills crisis. However, with 70% of hospitality professionals unaware of the new Levy, it seems there’s still a way to go before our restaurant kitchens are fully staffed again.

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