The number of Tasmanians engaged in apprenticeships or traineeships has dropped by 12.5 per cent since the Federal Coalition took office more than six years ago.
The portal available through MySkills.gov.au provides a platform in which alumni can tell their story and inspire others to achieve their goals through VET and also equips them with information and resources to assist with undertaking their roles as leaders in the VET system.
A University of Queensland researcher believes “toxic kitchen culture” is partly to blame for a predicted shortage of almost 60,000 chefs in Australia by 2023.
About 80 apprentices interviewed in Brisbane and Melbourne, aged between 17 and their mid-30s, had experienced sexual violence threats, bullying and intimidation tactics that led to “fearfulness” in their job.
Apprentices from Sydney would be interviewed in the coming weeks to add to the data being collected by associate professor and UQ research fellow Richard Robinson.
He had interviewed more than 40 chefs in the past year, including TAFE cookery teachers, for the ongoing analysis into the mental health and wellbeing of chefs.
Dr Robinson said the culture was partly to blame for high staff turnover rates and apprentices leaving the industry, following baby boomers retiring and the natural decline of enrolments.
His research, funded by William Angliss Institute, showed hospitality had one of the lowest retention rates of any industry.
“What we’ve increasingly discovered through our research is mental health and wellbeing with chefs, is they are extremely vulnerable and threatened by this toxic kitchen culture,” Dr Robinson said.
“It’s quite frightening for the youth of today because throughout their schooling, parenting and sports clubs, they have been conditioned to identify harassment and bullying and they have been given the tools to sort it out but somehow when they enter these kitchens, they go to custard.”
Pushing people to the edge
Dr Robinson said research from the Department of Jobs and Small Business labour market research and analysis branch this year showed there would be a shortage of 59,500 chefs by 2023.
Dr Robinson, who spent 18 years as a chef and food service manager, said mental health trauma being caused by this culture was “tipping people off the edge”.
“It’s hard enough working in kitchens where employees are standing over a stove for hours and feeling hot, sweaty and time pressured,” he said.
“There are aspects that are never going to change and the occupation is stressful enough so this toxic kitchen culture is only adding an extra and unneeded layer on top of that.”
Dr Robinson said the culture needed to change to avoid a shortage of chefs.
“The data is showing us that a chef leaves the industry about five years after getting their qualification and that’s a huge investment,” he said.
“The other factor is the number of apprenticeship commencements is declining rapidly.
“The startling statistic at the moment is that about 30 per cent of apprentices who commence training don’t complete it.
“But if you compound that with relentless harassment – I frame it as sexual violence – it will continue to worsen.”
Women experience threats from superiors
Dr Robinson said with women making up less than 25 per cent of chefs in Australia, they experienced gender discrimination, violence and harassment.
“Young female apprentices are being threatened with rape if they don’t do their job,” he said.
“Another has said she was complaining about period pain and the chef asked her to show him the evidence.
“What we’re hearing are practices that are completely unacceptable.”
Dr Robinson said these behaviours were more extreme in high-end restaurants and hotels.
“Chefs are ambitious and extremely passionate to work in the best places to help their CV and career to progress but what they’re prone to tolerate a lot more and put up with wage theft as we’ve seen recently in Melbourne,” he said.
Dr Robinson suspected some aspects of the culture and job had since “cleaned up”, but his data showed the toxic kitchen culture was still prominent and had become “more subtle and disguised”.
“What appears as a functional shopfront is not necessarily what you find in the back,” he said.
“Having said that there has been an increase in regulation and chefs are no longer expected to work six days a week where it was a given back in the day.”
Industry says tertiary education expectations, not toxic culture, is the issue
Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive Wes Lambert said the 60,000 shortfall figure was lower than he expected, but he did not believe it was due to a toxic culture.
“Hospitality will see a shortage of over 120,000 staff from front and back of house due mainly to the well-advertised national attitudes towards VET [Vocational Education and Training] and TAFE and funding, especially from the government, for people to go to higher education,” he said.
“This is how us, as an industry, are seeing and hearing from our members as well as all organisations that monitor it.
“The drop of students are just being misused and being directed to universities for other reasons unrelated to what the researcher may have noticed.
“It’s a stretch to go from 80 apprentices divided by the expected 123,000 shortages, which is the largest of any industry, is such a tiny sample size.”
Mr Lambert said there were fewer enrolments in TAFE, cooking and hospitality courses.
“We are losing more workers in our industry than what is available to take in jobs,” he said.
“The slowdown in immigration due to current immigration law is another reason why we don’t have enough skilled workers.
“To say a toxic kitchen culture is the reason for the decrease is not what the industry is telling us.
“In fact, the (Department of Justice and Equality) had a report that was released that states hospitality is one of the closest to a 50-50 workforce of Australia.”
Mr Lambert said industry had improved in recent years and mental health was “certainly on the radar” of restaurant owners, HR departments and businesses.
He said counselling would be sought if employees experienced difficulty in the stresses and strains of the jobs.
“I’ve never heard of our members experiencing it (harassment or bullying) but when it is well-publicised, it’s a talking point that is addressed with ongoing initiatives by businesses,” he said.
Work pressures and bullying
However, Australian Culinary Federation Queensland president Bruno Gentile said a mixture of toxic kitchen culture, workload and personal challenges were ongoing issues that restaurant owners were battling.
“Pressures of work itself and individuals turning to drugs and alcohol and experiencing bad mental health are relevant issues that associations are trying to address,” he said.
“Only a handful of people have rung me (about harassment and bullying) or asked me for advice on issues, more so on bullying.”
Mr Gentile, who has been in the industry for 40 years, agreed with Dr Robinson’s research regarding some improvements in the industry.
“I think people are now employing more chefs in the kitchen to reduce those crazy hours,” he said.
“Weekends are more acceptable to have time off whereas it was virtually impossible back in the day.
“In relation to the bullying and harassment and pressures in the kitchen, I think a lot has come down to what it was years ago.”
Research to create strategies
Dr Robinson said his analysis of his research was still in its early stages but saw a strong pattern.
“If things were getting so much better, why is there so much evidence of chefs leaving in droves?” he said.
“Our evidence to date suggests there are more chefs than educators and actually are active in socialising toxic kitchen culture rather than diffusing it.
“Rather than accusing apprentices of not being resilient, the industry needs to step up to the plate and make kitchens a better proposition for young people.”
Dr Robinson hoped to develop interventions, including training models and coping strategies to empower apprentices.
He would also investigate the development of a best practice kitchen management online module.
Disgraced former Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash today announced a panel to oversee reform in the vocational training sector.
The panel, ironically titled the “Industry VET Stakeholder Committee”, will have no representation for the people participating in the VET system.
It includes the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, major accounting firms KPMG and PwC as well as the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, but no representatives of working people.
Budget cuts to TAFE, privatisation and a refusal by Liberal governments to listen to the needs of working people in the sector has created a serious skills shortage while leaving thousands of young people unemployed.
At the same time huge amounts of public money has been wasted on providers who rip off students and do not deliver the skills training we need.
This panel looks to be more of the same from a Government that will do anything to accommodate its big business donors.
As noted by ACTU Secretary Sally McManus:
“Excluding working people from a discussion about skills training is disappointing but not surprising from a government that caters exclusively to the interests of big business.
“The Morrison Government is pursing a policy agenda designed to keep wages low, attack the rights of working people and give even more power to big business.
“We need skills training which puts the needs of working people first and fills genuine skills shortages, not a system that pours money into the pockets of for-profit training providers.
“To fix the big problems in VET the Morrison government needs to listen to all stakeholders and act on their concerns. We call on the Morrison Government to include working people in this process.”
The Morrison Government has established its Vocational Education and Training (VET) Stakeholder committee to help drive its significant agenda of reform.
The highly experienced committee was handpicked, to ensure we have the talent and knowledge informing the Government’s skills sector initiatives.
The VET Stakeholder committee has hit the ground running and hosted their inaugural meeting in Canberra last week.
Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, said the Committee will ensure that stakeholder views are understood, considered and included during the implementation of the $525 million Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package.
“Our vision to create a strong VET sector is critical to our economy and to helping prepare Australians for the workforce of today and the future,” Minister Cash said.
“The Morrison Government is committed to creating more than 1.25 million jobs over the next five years and I’m confident that more and more of the people filling these positions will be coming to employers through the VET system.
“We are acutely aware of the workforce requirements in the Australian economy. Our reform agenda will deliver better outcomes for Australians who make the choice to pursue a VET pathway.”
The Committee brings together representatives of business councils, consumer advocates, peak body representatives, registered training organisations, and public, private, community and non-for-profit providers.
“Together we will improve the VET system through collaboration of Commonwealth, state and territory governments, industry and training providers, and shift community perceptions around industry focused training,” Minister Cash said.
“A strong VET sector will support millions of Australians to obtain the skills they need to participate and prosper in the modern economy.”
VET Stakeholder Committee membership
Members will meet monthly through to June 2023.
|Adult Learning Australia||Ms Jenny Macaffer||CEO|
|Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry||Ms Jenny Lambert||Director, Employment Education and Training|
|Australian Industry Group||Ms Megan Lilly||Head, Workforce Development|
|Business Council of Australia||Ms Megan Kirchner||Head, Tertiary Education|
|Career Development Association of Australia||Ms Wanda Hayes||National President|
|Career Industry Council of Australia||Mr David Carney||Executive Director|
|Community Colleges Australia||Mr Don Perlgut||CEO|
|Council of Small Business Organisations Australia||Mr Peter Strong||CEO|
|Enterprise Registered Training Organisation Association||Mr Chris Butler||Assistant Director|
|Family Business Australia||Ms Anne-Marie McNally||National Product Manager|
|Foundation for Young Australians||Mr Alex Snow||Head of Research|
|Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia||Mr Troy Williams||CEO|
|Jobs Australia||Ms Debra Cerasa||CEO|
|KPMG||Ms Sue Bussell||Partner, Workplace Relations Advisory|
|National Apprentice Employment Network||Ms Dianne Dayhew||National Executive Director|
|National Australian Apprenticeships Association||Mr Ben Bardon||CEO|
|National Employment Services Association||Ms Sally Sinclair||CEO|
|PwC||Ms Sarah Caplan||Partner, National Skills Lead|
|TAFE Directors Australia||Mr Craig Robertson||CEO|