How can we inspire the next generation of chefs?

Posted on 14th November 2019
Pastry chef showing students how to prepare dough in kitchen

In this week’s CTH News, we look at what we as an industry can do, to attract and retain the future chefs of tomorrow.

Disclaimer - we don't have ALL the answers!

Like any industry, the culinary world has its faults; it doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be better. On the one hand, there’s been progress, which we can see through the open discussions about mental health, the recent government interventions regarding tipping practices and much more. However, that hasn't stopped around 20% of chefs leaving the profession every year in the UK (People 1st, 2017).

We can look at this issue in a number of ways and discuss how to retain staff, but first, let’s talk how to encourage young people to join the industry.

How is the culinary industry being promoted to young people?

Statistics show that 85% of the chefs who work in London were born abroad, in comparison to 50% in the rest of the UK (Centre For London, 2019). Foreign workers provide a huge boost to the economy, but it's also good to cultivate local talent and encourage early awareness of the industry. Unless a child has a keen interest in cooking, they are less likely to aim for a career working in the culinary industry. It’s essential that we promote the industry through workshops, fairs, campaigns and trips - by giving young people an inside look into the industry, only then can they understand the diversity and opportunities available.

It’s also important that we connect the gaps that are present between the industry and schools/colleges through internships and apprenticeships. By creating clear pathways for people who wish to start their careers or continue their education, we an introduce young people to the range of possibilities; however, this needs to come from the top to the bottom.

The debates over the government Apprenticeship levy continue, with concerns raised about insufficient funding, which of course presents its own set of problems, but it hasn't been all bad news. The levy has also been used effectively by restaurants and food outlets. What this shows is, the government must continue to educate employers about the levy so businesses can take full advantage of it and improve the skills of the people in the industry.

Businesses and industry bodies must also do their part to ensure that they open their doors to young people. Businesses must engage with their local and wider communities and promote work placements, summer and longer-term internships. This will give young people a taste of the industry and help them get their foot in the door.

It will take the efforts of the whole industry to see a change but in order to improve this sector, collaboration is needed.

Is the culinary industry an attractive place to work in?

As mentioned earlier, there is change happening in the sector; the promotion of safeguard initiatives, open dialogue about fair pay and apprenticeships is evidence of this. In our second CTH Spotlight film, we spoke to Chef Entrepreneur, Adam Byatt, who told us the industry is "a lot better than it ever was" and changes are taking place. Open dialogue and industry bodies coming together with businesses is advantageous, as they help to bring awareness to working conditions and opportunities within the industry.

Changing the culture and raising the standard in the industry will be key. Government and industry-wide initiatives need to be promoted to create safer, more transparent and respectable working environments.

Working hours and the format of shifts will also need to discussed. At present, the industry faces criticism over antisocial working hours that are commonly associated with working as a chef. If the industry looked for ways to improve working hours, it could not only help retain chefs but encourage more women to take up the role. Currently, women only make up 15% of the chefs in London (Centre For London, 2019), the unmanageable working hours are part of the problem and amending this could go a long way in increasing the number of women in the work place.

Another issue that stirs up debate is chef wages. There of course will be contrasting views as businesses fear that there profit margins will be effected if they increase pay, however, we must weigh this up against the turnover rate and the increasing amount of shortages in the industry. Even the recent government announcement regarding tipping practices caused debate, as businesses may have to pay for the admin costs that were typically paid off via the tips. Ultimately, this is an area that needs to be looked at. According to research from The Caterer, salaries are the second most popular reason for people working in the hospitality industry to change careers, which shows the value that employers place on this issue.

There's work to be done, but in order to create the right environment and also show people what's going on, that there is a career available as a chef that has multiple benefits, we must continue to promote the industry, both by getting in direct contact with young people and by using any other means at our disposal. The culinary industry is an industry brimming with talent, so let’s work together and celebrate it!

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