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How we can solve the chef shortage (and what the industry’s doing already)

By Emma Eversham & Liam Garrahan , 20-Aug-2015
Last updated on 20-Aug-2015 at 10:03 GMT2015-08-20T10:03:57Z

How do we solve the chef shortage and what's being done already?
How do we solve the chef shortage and what's being done already?

With the chef shortage problem at boiling point, BigHospitality speaks to a range of people from across the industry for their views on how we can begin to solve it and what’s being done already.

The chef shortage is nothing new, but it has gathered pace over the last 18 months, reaching a point this last week where Michelin-starred chef Daniel Clifford predicted its demise if nothing is done.

As Louise Fenttiman, recruitment ad manager at BigHospitality Jobs, says, historically she'd noticed that the issue had impacted some parts of the industry more than others, but now no-one is immune.

“Initially the shortage was a bigger issue within the licensed pub trade,” she says. “However, it has now stretched across the whole of the hospitality industry, with not even Michelin-starred restaurants escaping its impact.”

The reasons given are plentiful and there’s no definitive answer, as we’ve found from talking to those across the industry.

“Companies advertising with us quote image, salary and unsociable hours as contributing factors. However, the general consensus is that there is a lack of skilled candidates coming out of schools and colleges and entering the industry,” summarises Fenttiman.

With People 1st estimating that we need another 11,000 chefs by 2022, its clear something needs to be done and soon.

How do we solve the chef shortage? 

The recruiter & trainer

Sarah King, director Orcinius Recruit and Orcinius Training: Skills and support

King places chefs in a number of restaurants and has seen the problem escalate over the last few years. She says kitchens are often so desperate for staff that young apprentice chefs can be thrown in at the deep end and are not given the support they need, which in turn can put them off.

“These kids want to learn, but sometimes they get overworked and don’t want to stay. The only way I see it changing is if the industry clubs together and gets involved in schools and colleges. Everyone has been so focused on building their own success they haven’t thought about how they will staff those growing kitchens.

“We do need to focus more on skills and the industry needs to take on more apprentices, so they can get the on-the-job training they need, but also colleges need to give them the right guidance when they are there. These days student chefs spend more time in the classroom than learning the actual job and so they lack the skills they need when the leave and go into the kitchen.” 

The chef trainer

Andy Mackenzie, executive chef of the Exclusive Chefs’ Academy: Early engagement

Mackenzie will soon be welcoming the second influx of students into the academy, designed to help Exclusive Hotels and Venues find and recruit emerging new chef talent to the group.

The academy picked out 10 chefs from 51 applicants from catering colleges, universities and restaurant kitchens across the country to take part in a two year programme, which sees students learn and hone skills and gain experience.

“The solution to the chef shortage goes back a long way and the Chefs’ Academy is going a long way towards helping it.  Danny Pecorelli had the idea to build the academy to grow our own chef de parties and it will help.

“We do need focus on people at an early age though and get them engaged. At the Academy we take our students to the source of ingredients and teach them about how great produce arrives in our kitchen.  I think a lot of that is missing in the kitchens or colleges today, but it’s also a culture thing. In Europe it’s built in within their DNA, they know where everything comes from. It’s something they learn in life.

"The lost generation we’ve got is going to struggle unless we do something about it at an early age. The industry should be getting involved and going into schools. We need to make that investment through the youngsters otherwise that culture is never going to change."

The chef with a growing business

Robin Gill, chef and co-founder of The Dairy, The Manor and  Paradise Garage: Practical promotion 

Gill’s restaurant empire has grown rapidly over the last two years. He and wife Sarah now have three restaurants under their belt since opening their first, The Dairy, in Clapham in 2013. He says new chefs are moving up the ranks too soon and not getting the foundations right.  

"We are blessed with the team we have and very fortunate to have strong teams front and back of house, but I feel like we are constantly recruiting. I find I'm constantly hiring into the kitchen and never fully staffed and the rest of the team has to pick up the slack as a result.

"There seems to be so many openings and not enough skilled workers and one of the biggest issues is restaurateurs promoting chefs too soon. I worked for 10 years in kitchens before taking my first head chef role and that doesn't happen any more. We are now trying to work with colleges and train graduates from the start in the hope that they will stay on."

The new restaurateur

David Ahern, co-founder of Wahleeah: Pay and passion

Ahern, who, is planning to give 20 per cent of profits back to staff at his new restaurant Wahleeah when it opens next week believes paying higher wages will help.

“I don’t think that there’s a perfect solution for the chef shortages, but I think pay is the main problem. It’s a damn hard industry and you need to be passionate about it.

“I always ask people who go for chef jobs if they want to be a chef and it sounds like a stupid question but it’s not. Some people come in and think ‘it’s a job’ and don’t have a love for it, but if you work in this business you’ve got to love it because you’re going to live it. You’re working so that people can enjoy their time when they’re not working, and as humans we’re not designed to do that.”

The chef-restaurateur with a training programme  

Richard Phillips, owner of Thackery's in Kent and creator of the Richard Phillips Partnership (RPP): Training and time-out

Kent-based chef Phillips has worked with his old college Thanet College as an industrious professor for several years now and this year set up the Richard Phillips Partnership which will place young chefs in kitchens where they'll have access to training and support to help address the skills shortage in young chefs. The chef says since the 70612 City and Guilds was phased out there has been a shortfall in the skills required to enter the industry.

"The quality level of individuals exiting catering colleges is below standard in my view. They are given a false picture of the industry and they're not given the right guidance and the right training when they're there. They're having more time in the classroom and as such are lacking basic things like knife skills. They step out into the big bad world and are lacking these skills and it takes the wind out of their sails, so they're deflated and want to go elsewhere or they feel pushed back because they have to start again. 

"How do we solve the chef shortage? It's the million dollar question at the moment. There was this boom of TV chefs and people thinking it was all glitz and glamour, but of course it isn't. You don't want to put people off, but you need them to understand that it's hard work and like any industry if you want to be successful you can, but you've got to put the graft in."

"I do think though that some individuals make a rod for their own back as they're not very good employers. When you've got staff you have to look after them. I don't mean you have to wrap them up in cotton wool, but gone are the days when we worked silly hours. You have to ensure all members of staff have a good working environment and get time away from the kitchen. Stop shouting at them and then you'll get a lot back from them as well. 

The skills charity

Martin Christian-Kent, executive director, People 1st: Funding and feedback 

People 1st, the skills and workforce development charity for hospitality and tourism is already working on ways it can help find the 11,000 chefs the industry will need by 2022. It is in the process of carrying out a large-scale body of research where it will ask chefs, restaurateurs, recruiters and suppliers to give their thoughts on what types of skills the industry will need in the next five to 10 years.

“One of the biggest problems is funding has been cut in higher education and catering is an expensive area within that. The lack of funding means colleges haven’t been able to continue to offer students the support they need.

“Our research will ask ‘what is a 21st Century chef? The nature of a chef has changed quite a lot over the years, so we are trying to understand what types of chefs are out there so we can get a better grasp on what the demand is for those chefs.

“Once we have that we can work out how best we can support the colleges and lecturers to provide students with the skills they need to work in the industry.”

Christian-Kent welcomes views from all for the research. Email martin-christian.kent@people1st.co.uk with your views. 

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