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Can kitchens solve the chef shortage crisis by promoting a positive working culture?

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Can kitchens solve the chef shortage crisis by promoting a positive working culture?

Industry professionals have spoken out about ways they are trying to combat the current shortage of chefs in response to a report People 1st released today which aims to understand and address the issue.

Over the last five years the number of chefs working in the sector increased by 51,919 and today, there are 325,483 chefs working across the UK. According recent figures a quarter of hospitality businesses in the UK had vacancies in 2015, 22% of which were for chefs however 64% said that they couldn’t easily fill the positions.

The Chef Shortage: A Solvable Crisis? report asked respondents to try to articulate the cause, extent and impact of the chef shortage and what they think needs to be done to solve it. It then identified six major factors which People 1st believe are contributing to the shortage. These include an increased demand for chefs and too few chef apprentices and students entering and staying in the sector.

A suggested 11,000 chefs will be needed over the next five years to meet growing demand. In 2015/16 there were over 28,000 chef students enrolled in courses – nearly three times as many chef students then needed to meet the current projections of chefs needed by 2022.

However, it seems that the students are not seeing the entire course through, or entering the industry. One student interviewed for the report said “most people give up halfway” while another commented they were “being taught different skills” at college which were not being put to use in the workplace.

The other issues highlighted were the changing nature of chef roles and the shrinking labour pool. People 1st estimates labour turnover among chefs at 40% meaning around 94,000 chefs are changing employment each year.

About 20% of those leave the profession entirely.

This has been attributed to a number of things including poor wages and bad working conditions.

Group executive chef Matt Ashton of Hand Picked Hotels – a collection of AA accredited country house hotels – said the key to retaining staff is to ensure kitchens are great places to work by enforcing a “zero tolerance policy” for antisocial or aggressive behaviour.

Speaking to The Caterer, he said: “It’s essential that everyone in the kitchen works together as a team and that chefs realise that they are part of a wider team as well. At Hand Picked Hotels, chefs are encouraged to spend time with their extended team, particularly operations and the people involved in running the events side of the business where timing and precision is critical.

“They are also encouraged to visit local schools and colleges to talk about their own experiences working in our kitchens and support the next generation of chefs to join the profession. It’s about promoting cookery as a skilled, creative and lifelong career that, with the right support, commitment and attitude, delivers strong career progression.”

Julia Mixter, head of HR at the Royal Automobile Club in Epsom, Surrey, said that head chefs need to “adopt new working practices” and make a change to “hours, behaviours and working practices that are completely outdated in the modern workforce” or “frankly end up with no staff.”

She agreed with People 1st’s proposed solutions in the report which include a voluntary charter; an integrated careers campaign; early age interventions; maximising the opportunities from colleges; job and operational re-engineering and recruiting internationally.

She added: “Cultural change happens when a spark ignites a groundswell. If head chefs see others all around them adopting new working practices then they will see the need to make the change themselves.

“One of the recommendations following the research is to launch a voluntary charter. To make this happen, it is also essential they have the support of their organisation to provide the financial and commercial support. An aspirational gold standard charter, perhaps sponsored by a respected organisation such as RACA, where practices can be audited and then awarded for kitchens displaying hallmarks of good working practice is a critical first step.”

Martin-Christian Kent executive director at People 1st said: “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. But without competitive salaries, realistic hours, tangible development and a good working environment, we will not effectively tackle the shortage.

“The way forward requires joined-up thinking with action at a business level, across the sector as a whole and by government. It also demands a holistic approach that doesn’t just focus on a careers campaign, but also on why we continue to lose talented chefs. There are no silver bullets, it just requires co-ordinated action from employers, sector bodies, providers and government.”

The report is based on interviews with industry commentators, students, learning providers, recruitment agencies and 48 organisations, including: Drake and Morgan, Ei Group, Q Hotels, Red Carnation Hotels, the Restaurant Group, Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, JD Wetherspoon and Marriott.

To view the full report click here.

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