The hospitality and tourism sector has been listed as one of five "super growth" industries in Australia, with the government throwing millions at promoting our fantastic food and wine scene to the rest of the world.
This is great news for the industry and the economy – except that we're also in the throes of a horrendous skills shortage, a shortfall expected to reach 123,000 by 2020.
Putting aside the fact that the abolition of the 457 visa scheme has completely hamstrung businesses, hospitality is simply begging for local talent, and a big part of the problem is the fact that young Australians don't see hospitality as a promising career prospect. For example, the number of apprentice chefs employed under a training contract in NSW decreased 36.4 per cent in just six years from July 2011 to July 2017. This is despite a predicted annualised revenue growth rate of 3.5 per cent for the five years to 2017-18.
To date, this year 872 people have begun a Certificate III Commercial Cookery apprenticeship, down 12.4 per cent from 996 in 2016. And completion rates are also staggeringly low at 40 per cent in NSW.
So how do we tackle this crisis? Apart from the fact that policy settings in respect to foreign worker visas need to be dramatically changed, a good amount can be done to make hospitality more attractive to young Australians. It should start with an industry rebrand and an overhaul of training and career pathways. We need to change the way kids and parents perceive hospitality – to many people it's seen as a dead-end career.
Today, when kids approach the end of high school, they meet a fork in the road and have to decide between a tertiary pathway and a trade pathway. Even though many enjoy and perform well in hospitality subjects at school, 60 per cent choose the former. If educational institutions don't start offering tertiary degrees that can incorporate hospitality courses, we'll have no chance of competing for resources, and great opportunities will continue to be lost.
Like what Le Cordon Bleu does with its hotel management courses, young Australians should be able to complete a chef apprenticeship while also gaining a degree in business or marketing. It might take a little longer, but if they're following a career pathway in hospitality that offers the opportunity to transition to a tertiary degree, kids will be more likely to do an extra year or two. After all, they'll come out the other side with a degree and a trade. And they will have been paid to do it.
They can fund their university studies, train as a chef, sommelier or restaurant manager, and who knows? Maybe one day they'll end up as the marketing manager for a global food or wine brand? They would have the best training and experience under their belt, and the hospitality industry would gain a lot more enthusiastic workers. Win/win.
Nino Zoccali is chef and restaurateur at La Rosa and Pendolino, Sydney.