The hospitality industry is in a bit of a sticky situation. The word “crisis” is being bandied about, perhaps justifiably. And consumers don’t seem to have the faintest idea. Why would they? Hospitality is about ensuring customer satisfaction, maintaining a calm façade. Like the swan metaphor, it’s our job to glide whilst keeping the hard work hidden. But now it’s time to break the rules because, as an industry, we have to ask: “Where are all the chefs?”
Daniel Clifford, the two-Michelin-starred chef, said recently that “practically every restaurant in the UK is short of staff”. But while the problem might be simple, the causes are less so. The media plays a huge role in portraying what it’s like to work in our industry, with TV shows showing tyrannical brutes à la ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and hardly ever mentioning training or career possibilities.
I realise that most parents who fund a private education would not dream of their child doing anything other than go to university. The mentality among the young, and more particularly their parents, often doesn’t question the alternatives. There is very little awareness of the fantastic vocational education opportunities available. This reflects a significant shift since the era of the polytechnic/vocational training. This is obviously bad news for my industry.
I left school with A-levels and enrolled on a three-year HND in hotel and catering administration. Fittingly, this was called a ‘sandwich course’, with two lengthy work experience stints. I worked in some fabulous organisations until founding Brookwood with two colleagues. A few of us shared a house and the roles we eventually held included MD of Hilton Hotels, MD of Costa Coffee and Pizza Hut, purchasing director of Disneyland – and that was from one house. Chefs in our industry can quickly earn into six figures. Many aspiring entrepreneurs don’t have to wait to own a business because street food and a ‘pop-up’ can get them on the road to riches.
High streets now have almost more catering outlets than retail. Hotels are thriving across the globe. So this leaves us with the question: what are we doing about the shortage of skilled people? There has been a marked increase in the number of apprenticeships and training programmes available in hospitality in recent years, in part fuelled by the shortage. Brookwood is no exception. We also run our own training programmes such as Brookwood’s Got Talent – a primarily management-orientated programme, but which nonetheless encourages and duly rewards self-improvement. These schemes are essential to the revitalisation of the industry.
Ending the stigma against vocational training could solve the shortage of chefs in our kitchens
So what do we need to do more of? Our industry has to change its image. We need to make young people aware of the opportunities and make these offers attractive. We need to say goodbye to the outdated media portrayal. We need to end the prevalent stigma against vocational education.
These are bold aims, but they are certainly not unachievable. We can change the media’s perception and increase awareness of the opportunities we offer by simply getting into the public eye and telling the truth, as we see it. Brookwood already plays its part in this. We are part of the Springboard Inspire Ambassador programme, where we talk at recruitment fairs and offer work experience. This is vital, showing the young that there is a rewarding career path available in our industry.
So now you know, we’ve broken the golden rule and highlighted what the swan is doing under the water. It shows how we have to focus on more than just getting food on the plate. Longer-term issues need addressing and the industry needs to work with educationalists to raise the lid on a best kept secret – hospitality can offer an enjoyable and a well-paid career. So if you want someone to talk about alternative job opportunities in your school, then give me a call. If I can’t do it, then I know plenty of people who can.
Sue Parfett, Brookwood Partnership