To the Survival of Industry

 
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When I opened my first restaurant, Salt, I soon became disillusioned at how hard it was to find and keep good apprentices.

That was in 1999 and if you found an apprentice chef who you thought was up to the task, it became an ongoing battle to keep them motivated so they didn’t throw in the towel.

Fast forward to today and little has changed.

The skills shortage is a massive problem affecting Australia’s hospitality industry.

It was further exacerbated by the federal government’s new temporary skills shortage visa announced in April 2017.

Fewer young people are embracing hospitality as a career and the slashed penalty rates over weekends and public holidays aren’t helping to bridge the gap on our nationwide skill shortage.

I’m passionate about the hospitality industry. It is an industry I have been involved in for more than 30 years and I have never seen it in such a crisis.

A perception problem exists where many young people don’t view careers stemming from university qualifications and apprenticeships as equal, which is a real pity.

New research has also found that three out of four young people would not consider an apprenticeship towards a career when leaving school.

A major part of The Inspired Series development program I created in partnership with Sydney TAFE and Australian industry leaders is about visiting hospitality training institutes and secondary schools across the country.

We want to meet with students to make them aware of opportunities and courses available to them within hospitality.

We’re working closely with Restaurant and Catering Australia and not-for-profit work-placement organisations to communicate with school-leavers thinking about what they want to do next.

We’re trying to instill in them that hospitality is a rewarding, sustainable and respected career path and not just a part-time job.

The industry has changed from the days of long hours and low pay. Hospitality has so much to offer young people, including business and travel opportunities, and that’s the story we need to tell.

Once young people are on board it’s all about keeping them motivated and rewarding them for the hard work they do.

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My colleagues and I encourage up-and-coming talent to apply for programs like the annual Appetite for Excellence Awards, which acknowledge Australia’s best young chefs, waiters and restaurateurs.

We’re actually about to host the 2018 Appetite for Excellence Awards at Luke’s Kitchen on 6 August, which is really exciting.

It was great to see a 20% increase in applications compared to last year and representation of all 6 states and the ACT.

I’m especially pleased to say that we had 8 women apply this year (compared to 2 last year), 6 of which made the Young Chef state finals.

We had so much talent come through the program this year and I can’t wait to see who will be titled 2018 Young Chef, Young Waiter and Young Restaurateur.

Reward programs like these provide incredible educational opportunities and once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as training in some of the world’s best restaurants.

We have also been trying to work with the government to increase awareness of our amazing hospitality industry, but so far, those conversations seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

We’ll just keep pushing and stick together to ensure a bright future for the next generation and our amazing industry.

This article originally appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food on 12 June 2018.