Home and abroad – chef shortage research highlights key challenges

28th March 2018 (Last Updated March 28th, 2018 09:27)

Hospitality businesses across the globe have been affected by the difficulties of finding the right staff, with a shortage of chefs proving to be a particular problem. Martin-Christian Kent, executive director, People 1st, explains.

Home and abroad – chef shortage research highlights key challenges

Hospitality businesses across the globe have been affected by the difficulties of finding the right staff, with a shortage of chefs proving to be a particular problem. Martin-Christian Kent, executive director, People 1st, explains.

In addition to the UK, North America, Australasia and much of Europe are experiencing similar issues for broadly similar reasons. In the United States, it is estimated that an additional 200,000 line cooks and chefs will be needed by 2025. In Canada, 23,500 additional chefs will be needed between 2015 and 2035 and 9,000 of these jobs are predicted to go unfilled. Chefs are among the top five occupations skill shortages in Australia, where more than 38,000 chefs are currently needed, while another 6,000 chefs will be required in New Zealand by 2025.

There is also evidence of chef shortages in The Netherlands, Germany and even in France. There, despite the fact that unemployment is at 9.6%, chefs are considered to be the third most difficult position to fill, followed by domestic help and engineers. In the UK, the most recent figures available found that a quarter of hospitality businesses had vacancies.

The increased demand for chefs on the one hand, coupled with high rates of turnover on the other, are two of the main factors we identify that are contributing to the UK shortage in our new report The Chef Shortage: A Solvable Crisis?

Many of the head chefs we interviewed compare the ever-changing nature of the English skills system with the relative stability of chef education in mainland Europe, particularly in France and Switzerland as one key issue. And there are further changes to come over the next few years with the introduction of the new T levels, which means more changes for lecturers and employers.

This is compounded by a shrinking labour pool, the changing nature of chef roles, too few chef apprentices entering the sector and too few full-time chef students entering and staying in the sector.

Most countries with chef shortages are addressing the problem through immigration. It is not yet clear what restrictions may be imposed when the UK leaves the EU. If restrictions were to be imposed, this would have a negative impact on the chef shortage and reduce the pipeline of skilled chefs from Europe. Whilst there are key interventions that hospitality businesses can adopt to help address this problem, this will take time.

The challenge for the sector is that if future restrictions are similar to the current tier two criteria already in place for those coming in from outside of the EEA to fill chefs vacancies, then they are heavily restrictive and will be difficult for many businesses to use. As a result, the sector also needs to work constructively with government to ensure that any restrictions are realistic and reflect the labour and skill needs of the sector.

Boosting retention is key to addressing the shortage. However in order to do this, businesses need to offer a holistic package of a competitive salary, realistic hours, tangible development and a good working environment – and many are operating with margins that are already very slim in highly competitive market both in the UK and abroad.

According to Jaimie Stewart, head of learning and development of international luxury restaurant group, D&D London, who have venues Paris, New York and Tokyo, innovations in technology may well help to futureproof the industry. He believes that everything from production methods to staffing rotas need to be reviewed. Payroll systems can be used to better manage hours and automation, biometrics, etc, will improve efficiency and the customer interface.

To conclude, the chef shortage is neither inevitable nor unsolvable. Nor is it solely a UK problem, with many other countries facing similar challenges. But it is complex and there is no simple, single remedy, nor will change come about if hospitality businesses and the sector as a whole do not alter some practices and thinking, start to build on the wealth of best practice out there and remove barriers that have prevented a joined up approach.