For some years now, there has been a great deal of heated debate surrounding the cause of the shortage of skilled industry professionals - in particular, qualified chefs within the culinary sector. While some state that the Millennial generation is to blame for the shortfall of more than 38,000 skilled chefs in Australia, others blame the diminishing lack of effective leaders to mentor and inspire our ever-evolving workforce, coupled with the fall out of borders closures due to Covid-19.
Regardless of who is to blame for this skills shortage, the increasing demand for chefs, inadequate training and an indifference to the idea of doing the hard yards are definitely key factors behind the issue – but how do we address this problem? Who or what is it that needs to change?
Back in 2016, it was suggested that Gen Y was to blame for the skills shortage of skilled qualified chefs across the industry. The News.com piece titled ‘Apprentice chefs hit back at claims they are to blame for the Australian chef shortage’ raised some valid opinions from various leaders throughout the culinary world. Some, agreeing that although Gen Y may be partly to blame, it is ultimately the lack of effective mentors. There just isn’t enough who are willing to teach and encourage young chefs to pursue cooking as a career, although this seems to be changing.
Zane Heemi – head chef of Bluebonnet Barbecue in Melbourne – is one of the key contributors to the article, raising the point that the older generations of chefs were raised in ‘militant-style’ kitchens, and that those types of working environments just do not work when educating and training today’s cooks.
“They were raised in much tougher kitchens, and before the saturation of food glamorisation on TV. Most of the chefs in the industry really wanted to be there — it wasn’t glamorous and it was unpopular, and there were no rockstars, so the drive was different.” – Zane Heemi
This miscommunication between employees and their managers isn’t just occurring within the chef profession, but is happening across the entire hospitality industry. Over and above everything else, the one thing that doesn’t work in today’s restaurants or venues, are management style personalities who rule by fear. Business owners must hire inspiring people, who can lead and support their teams, while investing time in their people.
An article in the Brisbane Times Australia's 'toxic kitchen culture' to cause major chef shortage" highlighted this problem in kitchens, emphasising the fact that research by the University of Qld predicted a shortage of 60,000 chefs by the year 2023. This is a massive crisis in our industry.
But its not just a perceived culture of fear that is to blame. The unprecedented arrival of a Global pandemic and the closing of international borders has hit hard. The lack of International students and Working Holiday visa holders arriving on our shores has created an enormous shortage of hospitality workers across the country, exacerbated by the fact that local candidates often don’t see hospitality as a prosperous, long term career.
Restaurant and Catering Chief Exceutive Wes Lambert, quoted in the article, believes that it is a perfect storm of a combination of factors. He said the 60,000 shortfall figure was lower than he expected, but he did not believe it was due to a toxic culture.
"Hospitality will see a shortage of over 120,000 staff from front and back of house due mainly to the well-advertised national attitudes towards VET [Vocational Education and Training] and TAFE and funding, especially from the government, for people to go to higher education,…….
Mr Lambert said there were fewer enrolments in TAFE, cooking and hospitality courses.
"We are losing more workers in our industry than what is available to take in jobs.The slowdown in immigration due to current immigration law is another reason why we don't have enough skilled workers.To say a toxic kitchen culture is the reason for the decrease is not what the industry is telling us."
Mr Lambert said industry had improved in recent years and mental health was "certainly on the radar" of restaurant owners, HR departments and businesses. He said counselling would be sought if employees experienced difficulty in the stresses and strains of the jobs.
While the industry does produce experienced and qualified senior chefs, the challenge lies with these leaders to encourage the young and ambitious to stay motivated enough to pursue it as a career.
Renowned chef / owner of Noma (aka world’s best restaurant) Rene Redzepi, wrote an article for David Chang’s ‘Lucky Peach’ food publication on how leaders within the industry are responsible for changing the culture of our kitchens. The days of ruling by fear, yelling and screaming in the kitchen are gone – Rene focuses on the fact that although great restaurants need organisation and control, they will not be successful unless they have confident staff who are motivated to cook better. Being a chef who used to lead by fear, he addresses why he decided to make a change:
“I want things to change for the sake of this profession. When we started trying to change the culture at Noma, we did it for the sake of our own happiness. I didn’t expect that it would also make us a better restaurant. But it did. This has worked for us. I genuinely do see the improvement in the staff’s morale, in our guests’ satisfaction, in the quality of our creativity and execution.” – Rene Redzepi
So if we revisit our original question. Do the current experienced and professional leaders within the industry need to evolve, or is the challenge purely with the largest demographic currently in our workforce or the effects of the Global pandemic?
One thing is for certain, the workforce isn’t going to change and revert to ancient ways in which to be managed. As leaders who have worked their way through the industry and experienced the change first hand, it’s up to us to adopt and educate new methods to inspire our workforce as opposed to dispensing of people without a thought. Let’s try something different, and invest in the human resources and try to remember that we were once in their shoes.
There is an abundance of culinary roles open across our city. It’s a candidate driven market and people have great choice in where they decide to work – so in order for our venues to retain quality staff, leaders need to ask themselves how they are addressing the skills shortage, and creating a more motivating and inspiring professional environment to be in.
If you are ready to take the next step in your career, we can put you into contact with the right people! Submit your resume to begin your journey with us today.