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Viewpoint: A three-point plan to attract and nurture our future chefs

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Viewpoint: A three-point plan to attract and nurture our future chefs

We need to shout about how great hospitality is, says Gary Hunter, vice-principal for hospitality and adult learning at Westminster Kingsway College, London

I was shocked to read the latest research from InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) into the attitudes of the UK’s young people towards our industry. It seems that few school-leavers want to pursue a career in this most rewarding of fields – and this despite years of high-profile TV cooking programmes and celebrity chefs, not to mention the vast array of career options available for trained culinary professionals. With Brexit looming and an ageing workforce, we face a battle to attract the next generation of talent.

But I am positive about the future. As the head of one of the UK’s leading schools of hospitality and culinary arts, I have had the privilege of seeing and training the cream of the 22% who currently do consider a career in cooking. Over the years, dozens of our students have gone on to work in, and run, the best kitchens around the world.

I know there is talent and passion out there, so how can we find and nurture the chefs of the future? I have a three-point plan:

1. Get them in young. We need more young people to want to come into the hospitality and culinary fields – be they baristas, mixologists, chefs in fine-dining restaurants, waiters, sommeliers, food scientists or new product developers for our supermarkets. It seems evident that our industry needs to promote itself and its range of careers better to schools and to young people.

We run an academy for young chefs, where 14- to 16-year-olds can gain a taste of the culinary world in a safe environment. It acts as a feeder course for our diploma courses and has introduced many youngsters to the great world of hospitality. And by showing school-age children what the industry is really all about, we help reassure doubtful parents, too.

2. Help people get real work experience. In its research, IHG found that enabling young people to gain on-the-job experience is vital, so they can learn what working in a hotel or restaurant is really like, but also to better understand the variety of hospitality and culinary roles available to them.

I couldn’t agree more. A common complaint of UK plc is that colleges and universities do not prepare their graduates for the real world. Our industry is no exception – graduates need to be ready to work in high-pressure hotels, restaurants and kitchens, with the skills that employers rightly demand. At Westminster Kingsway our training is not only high quality, but relevant to the needs of business too. Our chef lecturers’ links with the culinary and hospitality industry ensures that our training is always fresh and up-to-date, and produces graduates who are ready to work.

3. Embrace apprenticeships. Apprentices earn while they learn – typically doing one day of study each week in a college while holding down a job – and many employers use them to upskill existing workers (perhaps moving them into a management role), as well as providing training for newer employees. We recently signed a contract to train 155 apprentices in hospitality and catering roles for the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and we hope to do a lot more of this important work in the future.

Last week Hotelympia returned and the best chefs and students – including some of ours – battled it out for gold medals in the International Salon Culinaire. There is so much for us to be proud of in our industry and it’s time more people knew about it.

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