Or why is it so difficult to find chefs in Ireland
Finally! This week the Irish TImes has got to the question every catering recruitment consultant, especially those of us who specialize in recruiting chefs, has had to field many times:
“Why, in such a recessionary market, can’t I find any chefs?”
Some of the biggest names in the industry are looking for qualified chefs, including Shanahan’s on the Green, the Shelbourne Hotel and the Michelin-starred Malahide restaurant Bon Appetit. Even Masterchef judge Dylan McGrath has been recruiting staff for his Rustic Stone restaurant in Dublin. Recently the jobs.ie website listed more than 100 jobs around the country for chefs at a variety of levels.
It’s a question we, as catering recruiters, have problems explaining
without creating the impression we’re talking up the shortage for self serving purposes. So a big thank you to the Irish Times for “mainstreaming” what has been, until now, a story of quiet desperation for both caterers and, yes, recruiters.
As chef recruitment specialists we’re not going to deny that a constraint on the availability of chefs is good for business, it certainly is. However as long as that constraint remains under the line, and unacknowledged, we face a credibility problem when explaining the situation to clients. They’re desperate for qualified staff, can’t understand the difficulty in finding them and, not unnaturally, suspect recruitment agents of talking up the problem, for profit. Even if some recruitment agencies are doing exactly that, it doesn’t alter the fact that there is a recruitment crisis in the Irish hospitality industry.
It helps, from the point of view of credibility at least, that by the time a catering recruitment agent is faced with that question the client caterer has, very likely, exhausted every contact in their phone book, thrown money at the problem in the form of posting their vacancy on one of the many job boards and come up completely empty handed.
Reading the article two discouraging aspects to the story jumped off the page at me, the first of which was this:
The skills shortage looks set to worsen, following the closure last month of the Fáilte Ireland training centre on Amiens St in Dublin. A spokeswoman says 250 people were trained last year in bar, restaurant and culinary skills. But budget cuts mean Fáilte Ireland is moving away from offering training courses.
It seems like only a week ago I listened as a government minister argued, credibly, on 2FM that the visits of Obama and Queen Elizabeth were much needed boosts for the Irish hospitality and catering sector. Going further he stressed that, along with agriculture, this sector was of systemic importance to national recovery. Shuttering the Fáilte Ireland training centre on Amiens St seems a very peculiar way for any government to demonstrate it’s commitment to an industry sector of systemic national importance.
The second passage which caught my attention did so in a more nuanced way but does, nonetheless, highlight a way of thinking about our industry which is, I believe, rather defeatist.
The restaurant trade is one of the few experiencing a shortage of skilled people. Brian Fallon, the newly appointed president of the Restaurants’ Association of Ireland (RAI), says it is strange when restaurants are being forced to close that the remaining ones are facing difficulties finding staff. “Part of the reason is that there’s been an exodus. A lot of northern European workers have gone back to their home countries,” he says.
Those workers were filling a void created during the boom times when Irish school-leavers preferred to head into the construction industry than the kitchen, he adds.
While I don’t wish to be critical of the President of the Restaurants Association of Ireland I had hoped we were long past the stage were we think of a career in the culinary arts as the default alternative to “going to work on the sites.” While the building boom did, and in this Mr. Fallon is correct, attract young workers who might otherwise have gone on to work in the catering industry, the boom opened up many other career possibilities for young Irish people which didn’t involve hard hats, high visibility vests and flasks of milky tea.
The Irish catering industry today faces competition for the hearts and minds of young Irish people from a whole host of sectors, many of which didn’t exist twenty years ago. Twenty years ago how many of us could have claimed to know a graphic designer? A sound engineer? An events organiser? We certainly didn’t know any web designers either, yet today how many of us don’t know at least one or more of the above? And I don’t know many chefs who believe they’re in the industry for want of any action on the building sites.
As caterers, and as catering recruiters, we need to attract to the hospitality industry not just the would-be bricklayers and HGV drivers but also the would-be graphic designers, web designers and any number of other new professions battling it out with the catering and hospitality industry for the hearts and minds of school leavers.
If we want to stand a fighting chance of competing a good place to begin is by taking care of the analogies we make when comparing a career as a culinary professional with other industries. We can’t rely on the Irish Times, or any other media outlet, to take our claims to professionalism seriously until we start doing so ourselves.
Let us know what you think? Is the craft of cooking analogous working in the building industry? What alternatives did you consider before becoming a chef?
Photo by Sarah.Marshall