Can we please start training chefs again!

Why the proposed changes to the Chef’s training will not solve the skills shortage.

The new training package proposal for commercial cookery put forward for industry consultation by the Tourism, Travel and Hospitality Industry Reference Committee is at best a band aid solution designed to appease only those that wish to all but eliminate vocational education as far as cookery is concerned. It does nothing what so ever to provide a positive staffing solution to food service businesses that ultimately require chefs whom are trained to cook and serve food as well as manage a kitchen. 

https://www.skillsiq.com.au/site/DefaultSite/filesystem/documents/IRC/Proposed%20Training%20Package%20Product%20Updates%20-%20Cookery_BRIEFING%20PAPER%20V2.0.pdf

My initial reaction was that this proposal has omitted any reference or thought to the prospective student and would be chef. The proposal addresses that there is a skills shortage, but fails to address how the training package can counter this as it is written purely from a business perspective. That being, the sector needs workers how can we get them quickly and cheaply. Where it fails, and I might add, what most of the recent training packages have also missed, is that the hospitality industry is operating in a very tight labour market with low unemployment and greater choice.  Add to this that the product that the industry is selling in this market (chefs apprenticeships and jobs) is currently very unattractive to the vast majority of job seekers and those that do end up in the kitchen often drop out due to wages, conditions and general disenchantment with the career. The hospitality industry has successfully place considerable downward pressure on chef’s wages, conditions and training that the career is positively untenable against other trades and career paths of a similar level. Add the user pay system of vocational education for chefs, offering high cost education into a low wages job platform and you have the perfect storm, thus the strategy in this proposal is to fast track the whole qualification. Put simply in regards to this draft proposal, the fast tracking of education has currently not worked in this environment as potential candidates, particularly amongst those passionate about the career whom hunger to develop strong and relevant skills that make them competent in the work place. These chefs are searching for ever increasing career paths and the chance of success and self-actualisation within the profession.   What this proposal should have done was to actively attempt entice people back into the kitchen with program content brimming with in-depth knowledge, skill and technique. A program that matches the expectation of the student and thus provides a carrot in the jobs market. Instead we get a blink and you miss it, empty shell that fulfils not one of its own objectives.

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I can agree with all of the background assumptions put forward in this report (featured in the figure below) All except that skills training is not reflective of current industry practices.  Firstly, and importantly, chefs are not an industry they are a group of skilled trades people that have the commonality of having worked as an apprentice under a qualified trades person and completed a vocational qualification. In this country, in its current form comprises of some 6 to 7 hours of institutionalised training or 16% of a 38-hour week.  Since most of the training of chefs, some 84%, is completed in the workplace it is simply illogical to argue that a lack of skills in graduates is caused though formalised training. Formalised training in this context is designed to provide a foundation of skill and underpinning knowledge, not all of the knowledge.  

This coupled with the fact the restaurant/hospitality industry itself is in consultation and effectively writes the training package for chefs means that the industry is itself to blame for the content of the training, not the RTO that delivers it, nor the apprentice that learns it. The RTO can only deliver to the training package, so if the training package is watered down by the industry then it can hardly be the fault of the RTO if graduates are under skilled on completion. The race to the bottom mentality that has pervaded the training of chefs recently needs to stop.

Given the massive defunding of the vocational education sector and the constant diminution of content within the training package the proposals statement hardly surprising, given the hospitality industry’s aim of purely worked based apprenticeships. Note that this is the hospitality industry I am referring to, not chefs, as most chefs I speak to want more training, more content, more technique and more skill.   Put simply, if you want to destroy an institution (in this case vocational training) you simply defund it and overwhelm it with top heavy bureaucracy. Then claim erroneously that it isn’t fulfilling its purpose which then allows further defunding with money and resources channeled elsewhere usually into the private sector.

Has this privatisation of vocational education worked? Well clearly not, the fact that we have a shortage of chefs and a deskilled workforce is evidence of this failure.

Vocational education is expensive in the short run. Expensive for the government, expensive for the training organisation and perceived as expensive for the employer (losing a worker 1 day a week to paid off site training).  The hospitality industry wants to limit the amount of time apprentices are away from work and in training and thus have successfully argued for a constant reduction in content and time spent in formal training. The industry want a work based model. But this model cannot work due to the many differing path ways as a chef, thus a chef who is only trained in a mining camp kitchen is therefore under skilled elsewhere, so some form of formal training has to take place to remedy this. The major issue is that the diminution in training and the resulting reduction in chef’s wages has led to even lower retention rates and falling numbers of chefs. These chefs used to be found overseas, as workers on 457 visas, however this/these kind of worker(s) are far more problematic now, given the greater government and public scrutiny over claims of exploitation, and changes to legislation.

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Consider the opposite of this with well trained and equipped graduates, sure there is a short run cost but this is re-paid over and over to the government though higher taxation of skilled and highly paid individuals and the less likeliness of welfare. To the employer with greater efficiency, better skills and knowledge creating better products and increasing sales, not to mention the general osmotic nature of wisdom and skill though out a kitchen team, which generates more of the same. This is what, as chefs, we should be aiming for.





Figure 1. Background

TOURISM, TRAVEL AND HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY REFERENCE COMMITTEE (IRC) CONSULTATION BRIEFING – COMMERCIAL COOKERY TRAINING PACKAGE PROJECT





Workforce shortages in food trade occupations – Demand for skilled food trade workers such as chefs, bakers and pastry cooks (patissiers) is strong. However, applicant numbers are low and nearly all areas across Australia, particularly regional areas, are experiencing workforce shortages. •

Skills training not reflective of current industry practices – Employers have voiced to various associations, including the Australian Culinary Federation (ACF), a peak body representing chefs, cooks, apprentices and culinary students, that workers entering the industry after completing their Qualification (or apprenticeship) lack contemporary skills in food preparation.

Working across the cookery sector – The transition of workers across sectors is common, and career progression no longer takes the traditional linear pathway. The commercial cookery sector is no different, and its workforce can now experience multiple hospitality environments, ranging from fine dining restaurants and clubs to catering to mine sites and other mass operations.

Lack of business and commercial skills in graduates – Employers have indicated that, after finishing a Qualification (or an apprenticeship), workers may be required to run a small operation within a business environment, which may include rostering staff, ordering stock using various online platforms, or other business functions. These skill areas need to be better reflected in the Training Package. “

www.skillsip.com.au

The new proposal, which mission statement is to streamline, simply and modernise, is in fact on reflection, counterintuitive and amounts to another pin prick in the death of a thousand wounds currently being realised against the craft of the chef.  

In essence a prospective chef would do a pre-apprenticeship of two years comprising of a certificate 1 and then 2. Certificate 3 would then be a 1 year Qualification. So, on face value there appears to be 3 years of training. But the devil is in the detail, of which there is very little in the documents. How much industry time is included, how does this work with a pre-apprenticeship, are just a couple of questions. If I’m spending two years as a pre-apprentice am I in a workplace? If so how am I paid? Or, as I see it, I’m at school, the pre-apprenticeship is designed as a school based option for years 11 and 12 after which I spend a year as an apprentice and training at an RTO such as TAFE.  But what if I'm not in school, what then?

Can you imagine doing two years of TVET at school, getting a full-time chefs apprenticeship for 6 months to 1 year and then being qualified as a chef with all the added pressure and expectation that comes with the title? I couldn’t, and it simply isn’t fair to the worker or the business that will be employing them.

Would it not be more streamlined to just have a single qualification and a single apprenticeship that comprises all of the above? Isn’t the new proposal actually less streamlined than before? How can adding more steps with pre-apprenticeships and new qualifications actually streamline the training package? 

I think, as an employer of chefs myself, its far more confusing.

 So, with two years at school and one year out of school I am now in possession of a trade qualification as a chef. This misses any of the aims of the training package unless I operate a massive catering company or food service business that needs a considerable amount of cheap and low skilled cooks. As any chef knows more than one year is needed to achieve any kind of certainty and capability in a commercial kitchen. This method is merely to churn out workers as quickly as possible.  With limited skills, these chefs generally have a hard time delivering on the demands that are required in modern restaurants and often opt out for a better paying and more rewarding career in another trade or industry. Most of the apprentices that I teach and work with are hungry for more knowledge, not less and often comment on the lack of course content in the formalised training, as compared to previous training packages. Add to this the fact that chefs qualifying now are at best apprehensive about their capabilities against the industry expectations of a “qualified chef”. Most, in my experience, feel underdone and fearful.  

Finally, also let’s consider the level of training. Currently a chef has two years of training at AQF level 3 which is at a much higher educational standard than AQF levels 1 and 2. So realistically an apprentice under the proposal is spending longer in training at a diluted level, most of it at school and little in the workplace. This fulfils none of the mission statement of the proposal or addresses the skills shortage at all. How can I achieve greater skills as a chef if I’m being trained at a lower level? How does this then help the industry? It doesn’t.

In conclusion, let me just reiterate what I see as an important aspect of this situation. A chef is a member of a group of skilled tradespeople, not an industry. Restaurants and hospitality businesses employ chefs; they are an industry. To have these bodies, with their agendas heavily biased towards profitability, in consultation to develop training packages for chefs is akin to the patients telling the medical profession how to train doctors. The simple reality is that once this occurs we begin to see the “MacDonaldisation” of the work force with business interests motivated by profits deskilling staff in order to reduce wages and maximise profitability.  This is at the core of the issues with the current proposal. How can you modernise by simplifying when realistically the training has already been simplified over the past 30 years. This is just spin for reducing training to get under skilled but qualified chefs into the labour market.  With little skill, these workers can have reduced wages. This is perfected for large catering companies and hospitality business but the death knell for any small to medium sized business wanting to employ a chef with skill and for the trade and craft of the chef. The knock-on effect as these chefs begin to train a new generation is the death of generational knowledge within the trade. 

As chef’s what must we do. Reject this proposal. Demand higher standards in training with better content, more skill, knowledge and technique. Demand more money be put onto education and training.  Because without good training the craft of the chef is under threat, as education is, not only the cornerstone of the kitchen, but the cornerstone of our society and wider communities.  

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