John Mangan Miller OAM
The Black Hat: the trouble with training

Guest writer John Mangan Miller OAM, Chevalier de L’Ordre du Mérite Agricole, République Française, gives his view

My focus with this article is on the importance of encouraging young people to enter into, then train within a nurtured, indentured apprenticeship and thereafter remain a passionate, committed, commercial cook. Unless this is properly recognised, there will forever be a shortage of skilled cooks.

The indifference of management within the hospitality and catering industry, their lack of support for training both on and off the job, must be held responsible for the current situation.

“Off the job” learning and instruction must be in a controlled, disciplined, set aside, well-equipped area and follow an industry-approved and fully-costed curriculum. The staffing of any registered training organisaiton must include certified, credentialed cooks, ensuring the environment serves the apprentice with appropriate learning experiences.

At the completion of their indenture and schooling, competent commis cooks must have the required knowledge to gain employment in any food preparation kitchen, not just that knowledge required for the narrow, inhouse needs of the training organisation.

A registered training organisation with approved, teacher-trained staff, following the industry-approved curriculum, must deliver every aspect needed to set up the apprentice with the required technical skill, and – just as importantly – a desire for further education to ensure his or her lifelong betterment.

Apprentices do not employ apprentices. That is the prerogative of management, who must have the betterment of commercial cookery as their top proprity. They must canvas using a syntality approach, then support any initiatives coming from the group to engage in recruitment of potential career-minded apprentices with backup personnel equipped with superior interviewing techniques, infused with integrity and professionalism.

This must be coupled with a fervent desire to do all that is possible to overcome the skill shortage of many decades – not only in commercial cookery but also in other associated trades.

The first step is to overcome the attrition rates and if necessary retrain apprentices who have lost the passion for commercial cookery careers.

Registered training organisations places and staffing ought not to be geared towards increasin throughput, but instead maximising skill formation in apprentices. Full time fee-paying student places should not impinge on places or facilities for apprentices. Nurtured training must be increased in industry and colleges, with the hope that the dropout rate can be reduced from the alleged current 40 to 50 per cent +.

Industry has to realise that its shortsightedness towards training is a self-inflicted wound, especially when it will have to compete and pay even higher salaries and special conditions to secure personnel from an ever-decreasing pool of experienced staff.

To depend on recruiting from overseas is not the answer – most countries are also having problems with skill shortages, borne out by the fact that Australian-trained staff are in great demand in Europe, Hong Kong, the US and beyond. Experience shows overseas-trained cooks and indeed other tradespeople have some difficulty with settling in, even when not exploited.

It is frustrating to hear of some of the comments and actions of management and senior members of kitchen personnel when discussing recruitment and training of apprentices.

Colleges can and should always fill any excess places and facilities with overeseas fee-paying students, but not at the expense of any apprenticeship program.

Skilling will have to take precedence over some other hospitality training for some considerable time. Otherwise, in the case of cooks, it could mean the dining public will have to pay more as management increases menu prices to cover the higher wage expenditures to remain profitable. Therein lies the danger of loss of clientele, closing of the enterprise and no need for mid-level staff.

Ponder the following: have listed RTOs become moneymaking businesses rather than skillmaking repositories? Is funding to secondary school hospitality education being correctly administered and directed to correctly target the very serious year 11 and 12 students who are inclined towards a commercial cookery career?

How long will it be before RTOs start to poach students to replace the dropout places in order to increase or retain their completion percentage figures and funding?

There is a need for concerned persons in management, in training establishments, in the appropriate authorities and in particular senior hands-on personnel groups to come together with a view to organising or setting up a detailed, non-glossed-over career choice program for entrants into the commercial food production arena. That initiative to be delivered at interview or specific career information sessions, geared towards would-be apprentices, on the lifelong attractions of being a member of the catering fraternity. It is important to spell out at that time the so-called disadvantages one will encounter while in training: for example the hours one has to spend outside what is considered a normal working day, prior to nine and after five, especially when compared with some professions and trades.
Glamorous TV programs might entice young people to seek a career in the industry but it will come as a great shock upon entering their indenture probation period to find the wages, the weekend work, working on public holidays, late-night finishes, early morning starts, no penalty rates, the potential unpaid overtime, the so called “heat in the kitchen” and a myriad of other issues.

The author wishes to point out that the above is his own personal view and should not be regarded as necessarily representative of the view of the Australian Culinary Federation, Les Toques Blanches, L’Académie Culinaire de France [Australie] or Bocuse d’Or Australia.


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