David Field, managing director of Nestlé FoodServices, wonders who will cater for the 2012 Olympic Games
Earlier this month, the national media announced that the UK was facing a huge skills shortage that could undermine the success of the 2012 Olympic Games. The same piece said this shortage was particularly acute in the catering trade. With this in mind and given that five years can pass very quickly, it's time to ask ourselves: who is inspiring our future?
With the ever-popular TV chef programmes, you'll have your own views on whether seeing the inside of a working kitchen has a positive impact on the industry.
I believe that "hospitality" should be at the forefront in the press and media. It's a great way to inspire the next generation - and even to make today's generation consider catering as a serious career.
Yet this same piece told us that the demand for qualified chefs for 2012 is up by 6%, but that the number skilled in that field has dropped by 10%. We were also told that out of 257,000 UK chefs, 30,000 have no qualifications and 51,000 possess only basic hygiene qualifications (The Guardian, 1 May 2007).
But we can't just rely on the media spotlight to make the industry a more attractive place to be. We, collectively, should be doing our part to encourage and excite our youth, promoting hospitality as the professional career to qualify in.
It's good to see a range of catering competitions and initiatives that enable contestants to taste the future and consistently demand the highest standards of professionalism in our industry, but this cannot be the only catalyst and there's a long way to go.
It seems obvious education has a significant role to play in this - and so do we. Igniting passion, creativity and a hunger to succeed in the world of hospitality is key.
The Skills for Working with Food project to help Londoners make the most of new opportunities in the food and hospitality sector is making its mark, thanks to London 2012 targeting communities with high levels of unemployment. I congratulate Hackney Community College, which has teamed up with Westminster Kingsway to offer NVQs in these trades.
There are many ways to support our up-and-coming chefs, caterers and front-of-house staff. If we all found one to complement our business, the future employment and skills of our industry would be in a very healthy state. Good education and good training make for better business and, ultimately, success for the industry as a whole.
With five years to go, let's all play our part and start to work with our partners in business and really lead the way to provide a better future for the skilled chef, so we can show our international counterparts that, as an industry, we'll be going for gold in 2012.
• For the past 19 years, Nestlé FoodServices has been investing in the future of the hospitality industry with its own culinary competition - the Nestlé Toque d'Or - and winners of the 2007 event will be announced on 22 June. The company also actively supports the Local Authority Caterers Association and Springboard initiatives of School Chef of the Year and FutureChef.
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