Relevance of current commercial cookery training

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There is a growing issue centred on the relevance of “apprenticeship in cookery” as a training model in Australia in 2011.

Some believe it’s outdated, others have opposing views

I’ll put forward some of the arguments in favour of abolishing the model, and next time take an opposing view and the other side of the issue.



For many years an uneasy relationship has existed between the hospitality industry and education system for training cooks and chefs, inappropriately described as an “apprenticeship in cookery”. The current model may well be the wrong way to train, especially as it leaves the apprentice in between two opposing forces.


Historically an apprentice was someone who legally agreed to work for a specific amount of time in return for instruction in a trade. The training model evolved when structured offsite education was added and apprenticeships became a partnership between a training provider and a business, with both taking responsibility for the development of the apprentice to become competent as a cook.


Excepting group apprenticeship schemes and a handful of large employers, it appears that the number of parties which fully stick to their original agreements is getting smaller, so maybe it’s time to divorce vocational training from industrial employment and allow the educators to be completely responsible for delivering basic transferable skills and knowledge.


The Australian kitchen continues to dramatically change to reflect our multicultural society and tastebuds; likewise the education system is in constant conversion in an attempt to keep industry relevant.


Compounding the historical issues surrounding apprenticeships is the expanding skill shortage in a culturally changing market for qualified cooks and chefs.


So is an “apprenticeship” a misnomer – or worse, is it downright misleading? An added misnomer is the expression “cook” which has evolved to be generally accepted as “chef”.


While in the past there were always individual day to day industrial issues surrounding apprenticeships, generally the arrangement fulfilled the individual’s and industry’s need for skills; the question is, does an apprenticeship still “fit the future’s bill”?


The idea that novices learn the trade and day to day conventions of a working life while earning a salary is, on the surface, an enormously attractive feature. However, is this really happening?


There is growing evidence that an apprenticeship as a strategy to train future chefs may not be as relevant as it used to be, for example:

» Many employers complain that the system is not delivering appropriate and relevant training because the curriculum is inappropriate and outdated, in spite of the fact that educators have constantly updated curriculum, delivery methods and streams and changes have been endorsed by “industry”.  
» Many employers are using the position of an apprentice to take advantage of government incentives to reduce their wages bill.  
» The narrow exposure to skills in a market now based on creativity and individuality with many kitchens and chefs fashioning their own versions of the way food is prepared, presented and served. 
» Educators are frustrated to see their basic skills training is not generally reinforced in the workplace. The education expectation that industry experience will reinforce skills taught at school is also a contradiction, especially given the downsizing of most kitchens and brigades, many with unqualified staff, limited and narrow menus, kitchen creativity that rules the roost, corporate goals that put profit first and other impediments that inhibit quality on-the-job training.  
» The educator’s expectation of industry reinforcement of skills may also be argued as superfluous, for if an apprentice is deemed competent at school, why do they need to have their skills reinforced at work?  
» Educationally the emphasis on time serving has been completely replaced by the competence-based model, so is there a need to “serve time” at work? 
» The training and supervision of first and second year apprentices is often delegated to older apprentices who would not have adequate experience in supervising and training and should not be the ones doing the teaching. 
» Many kitchens are run by semi-qualified students or unqualified cooks and chefs whose teaching has to be “undone” at school.  
» Educators are expert at training and assessment and the employer’s mission is to deliver a service or product and make a profit – there is a natural conflict between the two. 
» Government have thrown money over many years to keep “apprenticeships in cookery” alive and to increase participation, yet completion numbers still decline and attrition is just as bad as ever. If separated, would the effect be that employers can honestly compete for the externally trained and qualified staff?

» Young people are now more street savvy about their future and do not need the protection that was once afforded by an apprenticeship, besides which other social protections exist for any inappropriate contingency. </blockquote>

» The unqualified will be paid less, which places more pressure on them to become qualified and more focused at school.

» The qualified will be paid more, which they have had to earn through their own initiative.

» Industry incentives would be redirected and would boost training providers’ very limited resources.

» Scarce resources could be redirected by eliminating costly mechanisms such as workplace assessments.

" Group employers will still have a role to coordinate employment with the aim of creating internships.

The contradictions:

The training provider’s role is to deliver formal transferable skills through theory and practice. Training providers now have live-in house training facilities with functional kitchens and restaurants, so we in fact have a doubling up of practical training environments, at work and at school. So the only real industry training is menu-specific and can be a part of any induction program.

Why would an employer want to employ a full wage worker when he can get an apprentice for monetary incentives? The notion that apprenticeships increase employment opportunities does not hold up – employers employ on a needs-basis, not from a social consciousness platform.


< Next I will attempt to put the argument against any change. See: Relevance of current commercial cookery training – (against change) To add your own opinion to this article, please join the Salonculinaire.com group at LinkedIn where you can place your comments

George Hill 10:22, 20 September 2011 (EST)

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