It is known as a hard-working industry, but now chefs are being pushed to their limits as executive chefs and restaurant owners continue to struggle to find staff. Throughout Australia and Europe, restaurants have been forced to close their doors due to the difficulty to find staff. Now, industry experts speak out about the troubles they have faced and what could possibly be done to help lift the weight off the already in-demand industry.
Around the world
Over the last year, restaurants within England and Ireland have been faced with the ever-increasing issue of chef shortages. In June, the Restaurants Association of Ireland claimed there was a 5000-trainee chef shortage, with the percentage of course drop-outs increasing rapidly. This rate is extremely high for the country as the hospitality sector makes up 65 per cent of Ireland’s employment.
When these results came out, the association’s Chief Executive, Adrian Cummins told the Irish Mirror, “Some restaurants across the country are being forced to close on Mondays and Tuesdays due to the shortage of chefs. The chef shortage in this country is an ongoing problem.”
The shortage has also been experienced in England, with the country expecting to be short more than 11,000 chefs by 2020. According to the Evening Standard, the increase in chef shortages is due to the Brexit and visa restrictions.
Due to the dramatic increase in available and trained chefs across the countries, institutes have called for an immediate investment in hospitality training. Secretary of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, Colin Wilkinson told The Times: “Recruiting and retaining staff is a real difficulty and it’s getting worse.” He said governments need to invest in the sector to encourage young chefs.
Restaurant owner of Chester’s Sticky Walnut in England, Gary Usher echoed the comments, adding that reality TV has also influenced the shortage of individuals wanting to become chefs. “People think they’re going to get famous cooking, but there’s nothing glamourous about it, nothing,” he told The Guardian. “Kitchens are not great working environments.”
Back on home soil
The lack of available chefs within Australia has been a worrying issue for some time, but in the last 12 months, the shortage has increased. According to National Centre of Vocational Education Research, enrolments for hospitality courses have declined in the last year, with the completion rate dropping to a low 16.1 per cent.
Restaurant and Catering Australian Chief Executive, Juliana Payne told Good Food “it is becoming an increasing battle not only to get young people to start an apprenticeship but to get them to complete their training once they’ve started.”
Co-owner of The Bucketlist Bondi, Tom Walton told Goodman Fielder Food Service that he is currently “in the middle” of the struggle to find chefs for his restaurant. “We lost six full-time chefs in the last two months, on top of the shortage,” he explained. “You put an advertisement out and you don’t get many responses,” Tom explained he has found low wages, high expectations and false reality to being the biggest game changes in hospitality.
“You’re not getting people doing their apprenticeships because the pay isn’t great and it very rarely increases,” he explained. “These days, you can basically go wash dishes and get paid more than learning your craft. It is really physical work as well.” He went on to explain that the steadiness with menu prices has affected the ability to increase wages within hospitality.
“I have been working for two decades now and the prices and costs for a main course haven’t gone up, but the costs of the business have, whether it is the ingredients, rent, etc,” Tom said. “We should be charging $50 – $60 for a main course for the cost of labour, rent and goods at the moment but there is a lot of competition out there…You want more out of your staff for less at the end of the day.”
Co-owner of The Bucketlist Bondi, Tom Walton
Renowned chef, Neil Perry echoed Tom’s comments, telling Good Food, he has had to move back into the kitchen in an attempt to lift the load off his current staff. “We’re short about a dozen chefs in Rosetta Sydney,” he said. “I’m pulling a couple of guys who can work across the business. I’ll probably be working three weeks lunch and dinner as well.”
While restaurant owners are finding it hard to find chefs, they have pinpointed the issue to the low pay and lack of skills. In 2017 alone, the hospitality industry took multiple hits following the slashing of the 457 working Visas and the cut of weekend and public holiday penalty rates.
Despite the slashing of the 457 Visas only being very recent, Tom has explained his business has already felt the difference. “The visa has affected us already,” he said. “It’s not only chefs but also front-of-house and management positions as well…The industry is built around the 457 Visa,” he said.
In June, the Fair Work Commission revealed to Hospitality Magazine that the penalty rates, which caused a stir in the industry earlier this year, won’t be in full effect until 2020. The report claimed that the penalty rates, which affect part-time and full-time hospitality workers on Sundays, would be phased in over three years. Though, they confirmed that the public holiday rate reductions would be in full affect moving forward (effective from July 1, 2017).
What can be done?
While the shortage is being felt across all sectors of hospitality, chefs are calling for governments to start investing in the industry in a bid to keep young chefs interested. Back in June, the Queensland Government announced they would be injecting $60 million into the Skilling Queenslanders for Work program for 2017/18. This will be part of a four-year $240 million deal with institutes within the state.
According to Open House Food Service, businesses who hire apprentices and trainees under this policy will receive a tax rebate of 50% on apprentice wages. Restaurant and Catering Australia CEO, John Hart explained: “The hospitality sector in Queensland is one of many sectors suffering from a lack of access to adequately skilled workers.
“The investment in education and training will assist the hospitality sector operators in sourcing the skilled labour they need to run their businesses effectively,” he said. Mr Hart added that “rebates benefit both the businesses and the apprentices and trainees who will now find it easier to obtain employment in the hospitality sector.”
Along with benefits for businesses and young chefs, chefs have called on a mentoring program to be launched as a way of educating apprentices on a more personal level. A spokeswoman for the Australian Culinary Federation Young Chef’s Club, Brigid Mallet told news.com.au that young chefs are losing interest in hospitality quickly, so to implement a mentorship will keep things fresh for the students.
“The problem is filtering down from the top,” she revealed, adding: “I am surrounded by qualified chefs, but the problem is a shortage of good, hard-working chefs who are willing to mentor, teach and keep apprentices interested. There’s a lack of chefs who are willing to take time out to teach the young ones new things. It’s a seriously hard job, and we need that support.”
Chef Tom Walton believes something needs to be done immediately to take the pressure of chefs in kitchens
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