The Future of our Culinary Talent – Grim or Great?

Where are all the apprentice chefs? Demand outstrips supply and has done so for as long as I can remember. There are more positions vacant than there are enthusiastic young people willing to commit to a culinary apprenticeship.

To give some context; The number of apprentice chefs employed/under a training contract in NSW has decreased from 4128 in July 2011 to just 2627 in July 2017. This represents a decrease of 36.4% *

A staggering fall in numbers yet in what seems to be a contradiction, strong demand is still there for apprentice chefs with numerous vacancies listed across the state due to consistent growth in the tourism and hospitality industries. The shortfall is also exacerbated by poor completion rates. Only some 40% of apprentice chefs will complete their apprenticeship training in full – with most, if not half of apprentices dropping out of their culinary apprenticeships within the first six months.    


Fortunately, the NSW State Government (Training Services NSW) is focussed on attracting prospective apprentices into industry with a range of initiatives including a “VET repositioning” campaign that seeks to promote the fact that a vocational pathway or a “Trade” is of equal value to that of a University Pathway. Further, they are investing in a range of pre-apprenticeship style programs to get prospective apprentice chefs “job ready.”


What about retaining apprentice chefs once we have them?


In HTN’s experience, some of the factors that can contribute to successful completion are as follows:


Quality Training: Chefs cannot expect TAFE to be entirely responsible for all aspects of training for their apprentices as the training that occurs “on the job” accounts for 80% of the apprenticeship experience. Surveying of HTN apprentice chefs found that “quality training” ranked number one in the most important things in their apprenticeship experience. That means structured one on one training facilitated by a supervising Chef is imperative.  

Inspire apprentice chefs:  Providing experiences that inspire apprentices will support ongoing motivation. This could be as simple as a produce market tour or paddock to plate experience. Perhaps a master class in culinary techniques that are unique to the kitchen they are working. HTN regularly coordinates industry tours including guided tours on the P&O Pacific Pearl primarily to showcase another aspect of the industry but to ensure that apprentices are kept excited about their chosen industry.


Lifestyle: At the risk of stereo typing, Gen Y and Gen Z are social animals who need a social life and time with a circle of friends. Given the hours associated with our industry, this is obviously difficult but, in our experience, businesses that provide the odd weekend off can better retain their apprentice chefs.


We also need to talk our industry up and not down as well as adopt some of these initiatives if we are to meet the anticipated shortage of 28,000 cooks and chefs by 2020.


Hospitality Training Network Ltd (HTN) is the largest employer of apprentice chefs in Australia. HTN is a not for profit organisation established by the industry some thirty years ago to provide the hospitality and foodservice industries with committed, competent and skilled participants in the future.

HTN is proud to have employed, supported and mentored more than 11,000 apprentice chefs to date.



*(Data from Training Services NSW “in training” quarterly reports)