Around a third of young people would consider working in Asian or Oriental restaurants, but half of the apprenticeships offering work and training in the sector remain unfilled.
That's the finding of a YouGov poll commissioned by the Hospitality Guild.
The research found that almost one in three (30%) of 16- to 24-year-olds and unemployed people would consider working in the sector.
The Hospitality Guild recently launched five Asian and Oriental Centres of Excellence in England - so called curry colleges - to address the skills shortages faced by employers in the sector, following the immigration cap which restricts their ability to recruit skilled chefs from outside the EU.
But of the original 50 apprenticeships offered at those Centres of Excellence, around 25 have yet to be filled.
The Centres of Excellence are a government-funded initiative to train unemployed people to become chefs specialising in Asian and Oriental cooking. The pilot scheme is a six-week pre-employment training programme, followed by an apprenticeship.
Nearly 40 high-profile Asian and Oriental restaurants have committed to taking on apprentices, including the Cinnamon Club, Blue Elephant and La Porte des Indes, Tamarind Restaurants, Hakkasan Group, the Brilliant, Café Spice Namasté, Lasan, and China Express.
Suzy Jackson, executive director of the Hospitality Guild, said: "There are more than 11,000 Asian and Oriental restaurants throughout the UK - roughly one in 10 of all restaurants - employing over 70,000 people. We have leading employers in the sector signed up and committed to offering apprenticeship programmes but we've not been able to fill the final handful of training places we have available. It's encouraging to see that a third of young people would consider a career within Asian and Oriental cuisine but we need to work together to reach them and explain the fantastic opportunities available to help people find worthwhile jobs.
"With high levels of youth unemployment it's frustrating that employers are still struggling to recruit and we can't fill our apprenticeship scheme. In a recent Omnibus survey, we found out that almost three-quarters of the British population (73%) didn't know that the hospitality industry has been booming and continues to recruit, so we are looking to spread the message far and wide. This is a great industry to be in and it should be considered as the industry of choice when you leave school."
Aktar Islam, founder of award-winning restaurant Lasan, which in 2009 was crowned as the UK's best local restaurant by Gordon Ramsay, is planning to take on three apprentices. "I was pressurised by my family to get a professional white-collar job and a respectable career such as law, engineering or medicine," he said. "I went into catering and hospitality, which they were not too happy about at the time. Now they are proud of me."
Cyrus Todiwala, founder of Café Spice Namasté, added: "I was nicely surprised about the findings of the survey. The best part of working in an Indian/Asian restaurant is that you can experiment in your kitchen ‘lab' until you find the tastiest and best-looking dish. There is so much international and local produce on offer. You cook it with a bunch of fun colleagues, and you see people come in hungry and leave happy. It is a very exciting industry to be in! I have been in it for several decades and still absolutely enjoy every single minute of it. Training is key and I am glad to see apprenticeships gaining more recognition, as they are the most essential route to developing a career for any individual."
The Centres of Excellence are set up in five colleges across England, chosen for their high quality of teaching standards and specialist knowledge of Asian and Oriental cuisine: Westminster Kingsway College, University of West London, Leeds City College, University College Birmingham, and Trafford College.
People who are interested in joining the programme can visit www.hospitalityguild.co.uk/spotlight.
Applicants will take part in a free six-week pre-employment programme, which includes training and work experience with an employer. Taking part in the programme won't affect their benefits if they claim jobseeker's allowance. The programme will equip them with fundamental skills such as customer service, food safety, and health and safety - and a nationally-recognised qualification, the Level 1 Award in Introduction to Employment in the Hospitality Industry. At the end of the programme they are guaranteed an interview with a prospective employer for either a job or a paid apprenticeship in Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese or Thai cuisine.
By Neil Gerrard
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