Hospitality industry in crisis as too few young people opt for a career as a chef

Arwyn Watkins, Culinary Association of Wales president.

The hospitality industry is in crisis because too few young people are choosing a career as a chef, the Culinary Association of Wales president has warned.

Arwyn Watkins is concerned not only about a shortage of people entering the industry but also about the high dropout rate after learners have completed their further education courses.


As managing director of award winning training provider Cambrian Training Company based in Welshpool, he is acutely aware of issues facing the hospitality industry. He says the crisis is making headlines not just in Wales and the UK but across North Europe and North America.


“I believe that this is no longer a skills shortage but a people shortage,” he told the Welsh International Culinary Championships (WICC) awards dinner. “Not enough individuals are taking this industry as a serious career choice. Even when they have made that career choice, not enough are progressing on to the industry on completion of further education.


“This is an industry that is very important to the future of the Welsh economy and we need to work with partners in Wales to ensure that we can increase the uptake of our industry as a career choice.


“We have to work with employers to share best practice on work life balances and the changing dynamics and expectations of the workforce. No longer can our industry survive on goodwill. We all have to think differently if we are to secure a sustainable workforce. Not an easy ask but necessary.”


He congratulated everybody involved in the WICC for highlighting what an exciting industry it is and revealed that a Culinary Association of Wales member will be working more closely and effectively with post 16 learning providers in Wales in the future.


Deputy Minister for Farming and Food Rebecca Evans, a guest at the awards dinner, said she was passionate about raising the profile of rewarding and exciting careers in the food and tourism industries in Wales.

The country had world class food and drink producers and chefs and hospitality businesses were developing a reputation for excellence, but more needed to be done, she added.


She outlined the aims of the Welsh Government’s Food and Drink Wales Action Plan to grow the food and drink sector, which she described as the “rising star of the Welsh economy”, by 30 per cent to £7 billion by 2020.


She also highlighted the important contribution that chefs and the hospitality industry can make to achieving goals set out in the Food Tourism Action Plan for Wales by establishing Wales as a food tourism destination.


Mr Watkins thanked the Deputy Minister for identifying the Culinary Association of Wales as a food and drink sector champion and said the chefs were fully supportive of Food Tourism Action Plan for Wales.


One of the team of judges for the four days of the WICC was Will Holland, the Michelin starred chef from Coast Restaurant, Saundersfoot. Whilst recognising the industry’s recruitment problems, he was upbeat about the enthusiasm, energy and standards achieved in the competitions, which attracted around 300 chefs from across the UK to Coleg Llandrillo, Rhos-on-Sea.


“It was great to see the range of chefs, from students through to seniors,” he said. “The main things I noticed were the brilliant standard of competitions and the energy and enthusiasm within the industry. It fills me with confidence that there are chefs that will be filling our boots in the future.


“The calibre of chefs in the Junior and National Chef of Wales finals was fantastic and I think that says a lot about where cooking currently is in Wales. Events like the Welsh International Culinary Championships are important to turn the spotlight on what is going on in Wales and it’s like a springboard to launch chefs into the wider world.


“The attitude and enthusiasm of the young chefs was fantastic. You can teach them how to cook but you can’t teach them attitude. Some of the college students were competing for three days in a row and they were here until the last competition every day because they wanted to watch and learn as much as they could.


“They chose to be here cooking rather than on holiday, which says a lot about their attitude.”


Mr Watkins thanked all the competitors, sponsors, judges for making the WICC so successful.


The main awards went to: Junior Chef of Wales winner, Ben Mitchell, The Grove Hotel, Narberth. National Chef of Wales winner, Ben Mitchell, Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa, near Bath.  Battle for the Dragon winners, England. Open live class winner, Elise Evans, Coleg Cymoedd. Best team live, Loughborough College. Overall Cake Cymru winner, Dianne Swan, former Coleg Llandrillo learner. Best hygiene award sponsored by Eco Lab, Shannon Lee, City of Liverpool College. Best college, North Warwick and Hinckley College.