Des­per­ately seek­ing chefs

In­ter­est in hos­pi­tal­ity is un­prece­dented, but so is over­seas com­pe­ti­tion for tal­ent, writes Amy Byrne

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Career -

WHEN James Camp­bell ap­plied for an ap­pren­tice­ship at the top Melbourne restau­rant MoVida, chef and co­pro­pri­etor Frank Camorra was more in­tent on quizzing him about his per­son­al­ity and at­ti­tude than his cook­ing skills.

Five years later, Camp­bell, 29, now a sous chef at the restau­rant over­see­ing kitchen staff of his own, un­der­stands why.

It is re­ally hard to keep good staff, there is a shock­ingly high dropout rate among ap­pren­tices,’’ Camp­bell says. Most are gone in three months. It’s a hard job. It’s hot, it’s busy, you get $8 an hour when you start and you are on your feet for a long time. That’s why you have to have the right at­ti­tude. Frank’s way of think­ing is that he can teach some­one what to do in the kitchen, but the most im­por­tant thing is that they have the right per­son­al­ity for the job.’’

Dif­fi­cul­ties with re­ten­tion of young staff are be­ing felt by restau­rants, ho­tels, re­sorts and com­mer­cial kitchens across Aus­tralia as an in­crease in in­dus­try turnover has ex­ac­er­bated the coun­try’s long-time short­age of chefs.

De­spite a grow­ing pro­vi­sion of ap­pren­tice­ships we haven’t been able to keep up with de­mand,’’ says John Hart, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Restau­rant and Cater­ing Aus­tralia. We are see­ing restau­rants go out of busi­ness be­cause they can’t staff their busi­nesses.’’

Over­seas com­pe­ti­tion is also bit­ing into the chef pool, Hart says. Aus­tralian chefs have a good rep­u­ta­tion, with in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised qual­i­fi­ca­tions, and sub­se­quently the coun­try ex­ports about 2000 ev­ery year.

The short­age comes at a time of peak in­ter­est in the pro­fes­sion, fu­elled by the cult of celebrity chefs. Hos­pi­tal­ity is one of the most pop­u­lar vo­ca­tional train­ing cour­ses in high schools, with 38,000 se­nior stu­dents un­der­tak­ing it.

But in­dus­try lead­ers say the celebrity chef phe­nom­e­non has as many draw­backs for the pro­fes­sion as ad­van­tages, be­cause it gives young peo­ple an un­re­al­is­tic im­pres­sion of the job.

If they are get­ting into it be­cause they want to be Jamie Oliver, they want to be a star, then they are get­ting into it for the wrong rea­sons,’’ Hart says. We need to clar­ify from the out­set that it is hard work, it does mean work­ing nights and week­ends, but all that has its ad­van­tages down the track. It’s a great in­dus­try to be in if you are in­ter­ested in open­ing your own busi­ness or trav­el­ling, and the hours do of­fer flex­i­bil­ity.’’

To ad­dress the at­tri­tion rate of about 65 per cent, Hart says the in­dus­try is de­vel­op­ing an at­ti­tu­di­nal as­sess­ment tool that will be used to gauge can­di­dates’ suit­abil­ity for the job at the front end of an ap­pren­tice­ship’’.

New train­ing ini­tia­tives are also be­ing in­tro­duced. The tra­di­tional ca­reer path­way for a chef is to gain an ap­pren­tice­ship and at­tend TAFE one day a week for two-and-a-half years of their fouryear train­ing pe­riod. To ex­pe­dite the process, some are opt­ing to do the study com­po­nent in blocks.

In­creas­ingly pop­u­lar, too, are non-trade cour­ses, in which the com­pul­sory train­ing is done ei­ther full-time over two TAFE semesters or as part of a diploma course through a private ed­u­ca­tion provider.

Grad­u­ates re­ceive a qual­i­fi­ca­tion equiv­a­lent to the Cer­tifi­cate III in com­mer­cial cook­ery at­tained by ap­pren­tice chefs, but af­ter that they must get the prac­ti­cal recog­ni­tion.

Michael Ma­son, se­nior head teacher in com­mer­cial cook­ery at TAFE Syd­ney In­sti­tute, says the full-time course is pop­u­lar with ma­ture-age ca­reer chang­ers who are not in­ter­ested in en­ter­ing the in­dus­try through an ap­pren­tice­ship.

‘‘ We’ve had lawyers come through who want to re­train,’’ he says. ‘‘ But it’s a very pop­u­lar course across the board. There are also a lot of school leavers who just want to get in and do it so they can get out in the work­force.’’

Jenny Jenk­ins, head of school at William Blue in North Syd­ney, says private study is at­trac­tive par­tic­u­larly to in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, who com­prise about 90 per cent of the school’s in­take.

William Blue stu­dents re­ceive an ad­vanced diploma in hos­pi­tal­ity man­age­ment and can pro­ceed to a bach­e­lor of busi­ness, which Jenk­ins says can be use­ful for those in­ter­ested in work­ing their way up to ex­ec­u­tive chef or a sim­i­lar man­age­rial role.

Melbourne’s William







of TAFE has also in­tro­duced a de­gree-level course, a bach­e­lor of culi­nary man­age­ment, which di­rec­tor Denise Stevens says ac­knowl­edges the need for fur­ther pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment in a ma­tur­ing in­dus­try.

The good news for those who per­se­vere and fin­ish their train­ing is that the chef short­age has cre­ated plenty of job op­por­tu­ni­ties and pushed up the in­dus­try’s tra­di­tion­ally low wages. Restau­rant and Cater­ing Aus­tralia es­ti­mates that 60 per cent of em­ploy­ers are pay­ing above-award rates.

Andrew Keat­ing, gen­eral man­ager of the Queens­land-based re­cruit­ment and job-match­ing agen­cies Hos­pi­tal­ity Now and Chef Jobs, says qual­i­fied chefs have the lux­ury of choice in the cur­rent mar­ket.

‘‘ The chefs who are out there know they can move from one job to an­other with­out is­sue, so they are happy, but the em­ploy­ers are find­ing it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. We get calls ev­ery two days from new clients look­ing for chefs,’’ Keat­ing says. ‘‘ I’ve just got off the phone from a client who has four dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties in three states and they need chefs for all of them.’’ Keat­ing says the short­age is most pro­nounced at ju­nior lev­els — com­mis, demi and chef de par­tie — and re­mu­ner­a­tion in those po­si­tions has crept up.

‘‘ A lot of jobs would be pay­ing around the $40,000 mark now for com­mis chefs (newly qual­i­fied) whereas a year or so ago they would have been around $34,000, which is closer to the award wage,’’ he says. ‘‘ Then it jumps up when you get to the sous chef, head chef jobs, which can at­tract any­thing from $50,000 to $150,000.’’

The ex­pe­ri­ence of James Camp­bell shows re­wards can come quickly to those who work at it. Dux last year of William Angliss, he is al­ready a sous chef at a rep­utable restau­rant af­ter less than six years in the busi­ness and a con­trib­u­tor to a glossy recipe book.

But he laughs off sug­ges­tions he is on his way to be­com­ing a celebrity chef.

‘‘ The crux of it all is that you have to love cook­ing,’’ Camp­bell says. ‘‘ If you don’t you are in the wrong busi­ness.’’

Pic­ture: Lind­say Moller

Job on a plate: Tom Har­vey is con­fi­dent cook­ing as a skill will al­ways be in de­mand

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