With the UK facing a projected shortage of 11,000 chefs by 2022, colleges and hospitality businesses may need to work closer together to stop the tide of young people from dropping out of the sector.
The warning comes in a major new report in to the chef shortage by performance and talent management experts People 1st, which interviewed individuals from 48 organisations including Casual Dining Group, Wahaca, Quo Vadis and colleges and recruitment companies.
The study found that though there were over 28,000 student chefs in 2015/16, restaurants continue to struggle for staff. A quarter of hospitality businesses had vacancies in 2015, 22% of which were for chefs, with 64% saying they could not find applicants with the required skills.
People 1st spoke to several catering students who said the drop-out rate on chef courses was high.
“Most people give up halfway,” one student told researchers. “I think, on our course, there’s only two of us that are still in from level 1. The others dropped out. They couldn’t take it – and this is just the beginning.”
Students warned of a disconnect between what they were taught in catering college and what was expected in professional kitchens.
“In college I am being taught different skills and I go in to the workplace and have yet to be asked to use any of them,” said one student. “I also notice the difference [between] what I’m taught and then what I’m expected to know, or what I should know.”
Others said they were put off continuing after work placements went badly, and that many left the industry within the first year of securing jobs.
The report estimates that nearly 19,000 chefs leave the sector each year, while 75,000 change jobs within the industry.
“Employers and head chefs continue to work the youngsters coming in to our industry in to the ground,” said one current chef. “While...there are some enlightened employers out there, it’s also true that there are [some] who still exploit [staff]…because they had to do it when they trained. They see it as a rite of passage.”
One hotel operator said that headhunting and poaching of staff was rife as people were so desperate for chefs. “Loyalty is just not there now,” they said.
Galvin at Windows general manager Fred Sirieix told BigHospitality earlier this year that he was disappointed by the lack of contact the restaurant received from colleges.
“There are nearly 300 catering colleges in this country, where do their students go?” said Sirieix.
“It’s nuts because Galvin at Windows is on television and we have a good reputation but we still get very few calls from colleges and lecturers. Where are these students? Why aren’t they queuing out of the door here?”
So what’s the solution?
Following the research People 1st is working with chef and trade associations to explore the introduction of a voluntary code of practice, drawn up by employers and colleges, to provide a better transition for students during their first 12 months working in the sector.
It has also introduced an accreditation scheme, overseen by employers, that recognises colleges offering quality training. Over 30 colleges are now registered here.
“The dilemma for many businesses is that they are operating on wafer thin margins, with rising food and staff costs and a highly competitive market,” says Martin-Christian Kent, executive director at People 1st.
“But without competitive salaries, realistic hours, tangible development and a good working environment, we will not effectively tackle the shortage."
Kent added that tackling the issue required not just a careers campaign, but a more 'holistic approach' to overcome the root cause of why people were leaving the industry.
"There are no silver bullets, it just requires co-ordinated action from employers, sector bodies, providers and government," said Kent.
“Can this be achieved? If the passion with which everyone interviewed has spoken about the chef profession can be channelled positively, then there is no reason to think it can’t.”