With a skills shortage threatening to undermine Britain’s restaurant scene, Springboard’s FutureChef offers hospitality employers a fresh approach to recruitment, says Caterer.com

The UK chef skills shortage is well documented and one of the biggest threats to the hospitality industry today. While waiting lists at popular restaurants grow, there are less chefs than ever available to cook the food customers crave. The situation is so critical that it’s threatening to undermine Britain’s restaurant scene, and presents an ever-present challenge for hospitality employers. Figures from the Employer Skill Survey 2015, produced by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), reveals that 47% of vacancies for chefs are difficult to recruit for, with chef shortages most prevalent in London (66%) and the South East (46%).

The survey goes on to suggest that the skills shortage could affect how we eat out, having a direct impact on the success of UK hospitality businesses. Some commentators even go so far as to suggest that the shortage of emerging young chefs could change the restaurant landscape forever, making fine dining redundant as restaurateurs choose high volume, low cost food over luxury.

Practically every UK restaurant has a shortage of staff, and this is impacting all ends of the restaurant spectrum, from fast food to fine dining. According to the People 1st State of the National Report 2013, around two thirds of hard-to-fill vacancies in the sector (65%) are hard to fill because applicants don’t have the skills required.

So what’s the solution?

Springboard’s FutureChef seeks to tackle, head-on, the challenges of recruiting and retaining young chefs and in doing so offers hospitality employers access to the best emerging talent at grass roots level. The programme reaches out to 11-16 year olds, expanding their understanding of food and cooking. It talks to schools, young people and their parents, encouraging them to positively consider a career in hospitality, challenging negative perceptions of the industry. Later in the programme, professional chefs mentor the participants, supporting their progress and teaching them core skills. Springboard’s FutureChef seeks to ensure a steady stream of young people joining the hospitality ranks. And, it seems, this approach is working.

This year, a staggering 8,000 11-16 year olds entered FutureChef.

Paul Whitecross, Head Chef of Trump International Golf Links, Scotland, and mentor to 16 year old second runner-up Connor Duncan, says, “2016 has seen more entries than ever, and this year we noticed a real shift in attitude. Now, young people are coming to us saying they want to be a chef.  They see their friends and school mates becoming passionate about food through FutureChef and they want to get involved. It’s creating a whole new talent pool of aspiring young chefs.”

Trying to make a career choice at such a young age is a tough decision, says Whitecross, so FutureChef, which encourages 11-16 year olds to master their skills in a nurturing environment, is the way to attract new talent to the industry.  Pairing aspiring young chefs like Connor with industry mentors like Whitecross enables supervised skills practice and a taste of real life work experience. In the case of Whitecross and his young charge Connor, this led to a permanent job, and the young chef now works full-time at Trump International Golf Links, alongside his mentor.

Says Whitecross:  “Mentoring is all about nurturing aspiring young chefs and encouraging them to try new skills. The goal is to inspire them, share your passion for food and above all, give them the confidence to cook.”

The attributes of a good chef are cultural as well as skills-based, says Whitecross. “There’s more to it than just being able to cook. To succeed, a chef needs passion, imagination and creativity. They need to be a good team player and have a hunger for food. They should listen, learn and respect…and a modicum of cooking talent is a good start. By working closely with Connor through FutureChef I was able to nurture his skills, so by the time he joined me as a trainee chef he was already competent beyond his age.” For his part, Connor says, “Being this young and having so much under my belt already is amazing.”

This success story is one that is repeated many times for employers and participants involved in Springboard’s FutureChef. The national programme is a clear pipeline for talent.

With the chef skills shortage costing hospitality employers dear, FutureChef offers hospitality employers a new approach to recruitment. Working with the programme can help employers to tackle the skills challenge head on by engaging directly with enthusiastic and talented young people.

Interested in finding out more about FutureChef? Click here

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