Chronic chef shortage could make a turkey out of restaurants this Christmas

Chefs

Six in ten specialist recruitment agencies will be unable to provide enough chefs to restaurants and other hospitality firms over Christmas due to a skill shortage, a leading UK recruitment body has warned.

Research carried out by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) shows that 89% of recruitment firms had seen demand for chefs increase over the last three years as the UK restaurant industry has boomed.

But 93% of agencies surveyed say there are simply not enough trained chefs in the UK to meet demand. More than eight in ten (83%) expect demand for chefs to continue to increase over the next 12 months.

Looking ahead, the REC has warned that the shortage is likely to get worse due to a combination of poor staff retention in the hospitality industry, and potential changes to immigration policies which would make it harder for EU chefs to fill vacancies in the UK.

According to official figures, there are now more than 250,000 chefs in the UK, a 36% rise since 2011.

Business consultancy People 1st has found that 42% of chefs in the UK are migrant workers, with 18% of that contingent coming from other EU countries.

REC chief executive, Kevin Green, said: “As we approach the festive season the shortage of chefs is causing real headaches for restaurants. Training and progression needs to be improved so that more people are encouraged to become chefs. That’s a longer term fix, but there’s an immediate skills crisis which needs to be addressed. Any restrictions on access to chefs from the EU, such as a salary threshold for work visas, will only exacerbate the problem.

“Without a supply of chefs to meet growing demand, restaurants, bars and hotels will have to pay more for their staff and it’s likely that these costs will be passed on to the customer. We may even see restaurants close their doors if they can’t remain competitive and profitable.”

Martin-Christian Kent, executive director at People 1st, says that chefs continue to be a key recruitment challenge for many hospitality businesses.

“Currently, 42% of chef vacancies are considered hard-to-fill. However, last year alone 14,000 chef students left college after completing their qualification which is more than enough to fill the 11,000 we need in the next eight years.

“Our research is starting to show two possible explanations – students’ expectations don’t match the reality of working in the industry, and students are entering the industry, but they’re not staying. It’s critical that we develop strategies to encourage progression and development of chefs in order to aid retention and enable businesses to operate effectively and remain competitive.”

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