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How do we solve the chef student puzzle?

Martin-Christian Kent - Executive Director, People 1st

Chef recruitment is currently in crisis, with hospitality employers across the UK complaining of a lacked of fresh, trained talent applying for vacancies in their businesses. The demand keeps growing, with the latest data showing that we’ll need an additional 11,000 chefs by 2024.

This problem is far from new. The hospitality industry been debating its cause for years, with many fixating on the theory that school pupils simply aren’t aware of the possibilities that a career as a chef offers.

Teachers who don’t promote hospitality as a rewarding or aspirational option, and outdated perceptions among parents who see it as ‘a job, not a career’ are often blamed for the lack of quality talent available to employers.

But data from colleges indicates that’s not necessarily the case. Last year alone 14,000 chef students left college after completing their qualification. That’s 14,000 young people who wanted to be chefs - more than enough to fill the 11,000 we need in the next eight years.

Looking at these numbers, we shouldn’t have a chef shortage. So what’s going on?

Research that we’re currently conducting into the crisis has thrown up a number of possible explanations:

1. Students’ expectations don’t match the reality of working in the industry
Some students decide during their course that that being a chef is not for them. In some cases, they have unrealistic expectations of the industry before they join and their course opens their eyes to the reality of working as a chef. In other cases, students are put off entering the industry on the back of a poor work experience.

2. Some students can’t find career opportunities in their area
In some parts of the country, the job opportunities that newly-graduated chef students are seeking simply don’t exist. In these areas, the roles available for chefs require few culinary skills, so there is a mismatch between the breadth of skills that students are being taught and the demand from the industry throughout the UK

3. Students are entering the industry – but they’re not staying.The reasons for leaving vary - but often the long hours, pressure and rarely seeing their friends and family comes as a huge shock, even for those students who had worked in the industry throughout their studies. Many decide that it’s not a sacrifice that they are willing to make.

Are these plausible explanations for why the large number of students leaving college each year doesn’t plug the gap in chef recruitment – or are there other reasons that we’re missing?

If these ARE the key reasons, do you think better careers advice, work experience before starting the course and a gentler and supportive introduction into the industry would help get more chef students into the industry, and keep them there?

Our research is ongoing, and we would welcome your views and experiences to help us find the missing pieces to the chef student puzzle. To share your thoughts with us, contact martin-christian.kent@people1st.co.uk.


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