Chef recruitment crisis: things are set to get worse

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

In your hands: 40% food industry professionals have hired untrained staff
In your hands: 40% food industry professionals have hired untrained staff

Related tags: Employment, Chief executive

Unskilled and untrained chefs must be targeted by the trade and educated to help solve the worsening recruitment crisis, experts have told The Morning Advertiser.

Job specifications for kitchen staff must be changed to attract those without the necessary skills to work in pubs, Recruitment and Employment Confederation chief executive Kevin Green has urged licensees.

He said: “Candidate availability has been falling for the past four years and with record employment, plus a showdown in the number of EU nationals coming to work here, a difficult situation is set to get worse.

“Our research shows that more than 450,000 workers in the hospitality sector are from the EU."

Ultimately, pubs will find it harder than ever to find talent and should change their recruitment practices to attract more local talent to fill the skills void.

“Thinking about attracting candidates who don’t normally apply for pub jobs such as [maternity leave] returners, disabled people and ex-offenders can create a more inclusive workplace and help you gain excellent staff," he added.

“You should also question your job specs – do you need someone with experience behind a bar or can you train them on the job?”

In the past year, more than one third (40%) of the 800 food industry professionals who responded to catering equipment firm Nisbets’ Pulse Survey have had to hire untrained staff and put training in place.

One quarter have also increased the working hours of current employees to mitigate problems caused by recruitment issues, while almost one in 20 (17%) have launched their own apprenticeship programmes to solve the problem.

One business that has recently started an apprenticeship scheme is north-west-based Living Ventures, which teamed up with The City of Liverpool College to launch its Chef Academy in a bid to tackle the shortage of chefs.

The academy is an employer-led apprenticeship for young people in Liverpool, which has been developed to address the skills shortage within the hospitality sector and provide a career path for young people in the city and Merseyside region.

Living Ventures chef director John Branagan said The City of Liverpool College was a great fit for the restaurant and bar company because it is “committed to helping employees provide real solutions to the skills shortage”.

National chef shortage

He added: “The academy is a result for our desire to help tackle the national chef shortage and provide viable careers for the young people of Liverpool.”

However, several other schemes to help stem the problem in the hospitality sector have been launched in the past 12 months.

The chef of a Michelin Guide​-listed pub in Nottingham joined catering students​ from a local college to cook a gourmet meal to inspire them to consider a career in pub food.

The event took place at the Adams Restaurant in the Lace Market, Nottingham, and was a sell-out with 65 paying customers.

Ruddington Arms pub chef Mark Anderson agreed there was still an issue with youngsters wanting to work in what they perceived as more glamorous parts of the hospitality sector, such as in hotels and restaurants.

Nottingham-based Anderson said: “Young chefs gravitate towards hotels and restaurants, not realising the career opportunities available to them in pubs.

“In pubs, they can do everything from traditional pub grub to the gastro end. Further down the line they could set up on their own like I have done. The pub industry has evolved significantly in recent years and supply simply isn’t keeping up with demand.”

Anderson agreed there was an issue with the way pubs sought talent in the current environment, highlighting the benefits of training people, including younger employees, to work in pubs.

He said: “Some 90% of adverts for licensees from Star Pubs & Bars ask for catering experience yet only 7% of applicants are chefs. If pubs are to continue to thrive, this has to change.”

Businesses must reconsider the way they think about employment and how they retain staff, according to People 1st chief executive Simon Tarr.

Crippling labour turnover rate

He said: “Our recent research – The performance & talent management revolution: Driving productivity in hospitality & tourism​ – revealed that the sector will need to recruit an additional 1.3m people by 2024, with 971,000 needed just to replace existing staff.

“With a crippling labour turnover rate of 75%, three key drivers of change – rising costs, recruitment difficulties and changing employee expectations – are forcing businesses to rethink the way they invest in and develop their people.

“That is why things that were traditionally seen as HR issues like retention, performance management, and learning and development, are now viewed as business-critical.”

Schools need to make a career in hospitality as important as being an engineer or doctor to students in order to help battle the skills shortage, says the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR).

Director of communications Tony Sophoclides added: “The shortage of both workers and skills is something that the industry is having to address more efficiently now, albeit out of necessity.

“Employers are communicating more directly, particularly with young people, to make them aware of how rewarding hospitality work can be, and how career progression can be swift. School careers guidance tends to focus on the traditional professions and we need hospitality to be in there with paths like engineering and medicine.

“While the [apprenticeship] levy will hopefully see improved recruitment and training, there are other innovative ways to recruit.

“The ALMR has recently become involved in a programme initiated by Greg Mangham, a former Bass Taverns operations director, in partnership with homeless charity Crisis. It is already doing great work in training homeless people and putting them into employment in pubs, bars and restaurants.”

Fellow trade body the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) outlined that while the skills shortage is a concern, it is tricky to plug the gap while there is still uncertainty about the availability of EU staff in the future.

BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “Certainly more work is being done to encourage more UK staff to pursue pub careers and this will become more important in the future.

“The BBPA has a specialist group looking at this area, and is working in partnership with organisations such as Springboard. Our pub chefs competition shines a spotlight on shortages in this area for example, and members do a host of other work to highlight pub careers.”

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