Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine

  • The hospitality industry in Australia continues to expand. However, recruiting qualified, experienced employees has been a distressing issue. The industry cannot possibly further develop with such a shortage of qualified kitchen and front of house staff.

  • The popularity of TV food shows and the iconic status of some celebrity chefs has led to the glamorisation of the chef’s profession. However, the gritty reality of a chef’s career means working very long, often irregular hours, with little social time, while receiving relatively low remuneration in a stressful and hard working environment. This distortion of reality means that a great number of apprentice chefs tend to quit within the first six months and on average only a small percentage of apprentices will complete their course.

  • The hospitality industry had been one of the primary users of the 457 Visa. The visa was used to employ a high percentage of skilled overseas chefs, cooks, waiters and restaurant managers, attracted by the Australian lifestyle and the prospect of permanent residency within four years of job employment. However, with the recent crackdown on 457, the hospitality jobs crisis has reached an alarming level, as there is a huge shortage of hospitality workers.

  • Despite the extensive growth of the hospitality industry in Australia, there seems to be a negative perception of the industry as a long-term career. This mentality can be changed with a restructuring of the hospitality training, from vocational to university level, covering business and accounting skills, as well as a strong emphasis on mentoring through its curriculum.

By Michael Bennett

Addressing the chef shortage


HTN will be coordinating a number of forums with a variety of stakeholders that will focus on addressing the rapidly declining number of commercial cookery apprentices in NSW.

The forum seeks to inform the development of HTN’s strategic plan for 2017-2018 with objectives as follows:

  • To establish key strategies to increase the uptake/commencement of commercial cookery apprenticeships.
  • To identify initiatives that will improve the retention and completion of commercial cookery apprentices.


The number of “in training” commercial cookery apprentices has rapidly declined over the last six years. The following data details the decline:

Year No. of in training Cookery Apprentices NSW Total Commencements in calendar year NSW
Oct 2016 2825 1,352
Oct 2015 2949 1,250
Oct 2014 3224 1,532
Oct 2013 3400 867
Oct 2012 3533 1,547
Oct 2011 3456 1,730

Source: Training Services NSW Quarterly Reports

Despite the 18.26% decline of “in training” cookery apprentices over the last six (6) years, the demand for apprentices remains high with approximately 120 positions vacant currently listed with HTN.

HTN coordinates numerous initiatives and manages a comprehensive range of strategies to not only attract candidates into culinary careers but to retain them and support successful apprenticeship completion.

These include:

  • A comprehensive, perpetual recruitment campaign across online recruitment platforms such as SEEK, Indeed, Year 13, Monster Jobs, Gum Tree, Career One, One Shift as well as a strong social media campaign.
  • EDM’s and website campaigns.
  • A range of pre-apprenticeship programs called “Aspire.”
  • A high schools strategy that includes Inter-Schools Culinary Competitions, Careers Expos, a Year 12 scholarship and Classroom presentations.
  • A TAFE NSW strategy.
  • The HTN Apprentice Chef Culinary Competition series.
  • The HTN Apprentice Chef and Apprentice Butcher Competition.
  • Industry experiences including tours of the P&O Pacific Pearl, HMAS Kuttabul, Paddock to Plate Tours and Master Classes.
  • The HTN Peter Howard Scholarship ($5,000 and flights to London).
  • The annual HTN Youth Skills Showcase.

Despite all of HTN’s efforts, the overall numbers of commercial cookery apprentices employed across NSW continues to decline and as such, HTN is seeking advice from industry leaders as to what can be done to reverse this trend. Feedback and advice will aid in the development of HTN’s 17-18 Strategic Plan and will inform other stakeholders such as the State Government as to the strategies needed to improve apprenticeship growth in our industry.

Some of the issues that have potentially impacted Australian Apprenticeships to date:

  • Introduction of an adult apprentice rate by Fairwork into modern awards in 2014. For example, under the Restaurant Modern Award, Australian Apprentices aged 21 years or older are now in their first year paid at a rate that is 80% of a Cook Grade 3 compared to 55% paid to an Australian Apprentice under the age of 21. This has become a significant barrier for the uptake of Adult Apprentices.
  • The cessation of the Support for Adult Apprentices (SAA) incentive paid to employers of Australian Apprentices aged 25 years and over has also been a deterrent.
  • The moving of the Employer Commencement Incentive ($1,500) from 3 months to 6 months is a deterrent as most of the employer’s effort goes into the first three months of the apprentice’s employment. Eg: recruitment, induction and orientation etc.
  • The introduction of a $20,000 trade loan that replaced the Tools for your Trade incentives paid directly to Australian Apprentices. The incentive/s represented up to $7,500 tax free paid over the life of the training contract.
  • More broadly, there are still some secondary schools that continue to promote an academic pathway as opposed to a vocational pathway.
  • At a NSW state level, the cost of the “off the job” training (eg: TAFE enrolment) has increased under recent VET reform to $2,000 for the cost of the qualification. (was previously approximately $1,400). Fairwork has also mandated that this cost be met by the employer of the apprentice (traditionally has been the responsibility of the apprentice)

Any thoughts, ideas or comments?

Email Michael Bennett, CEO, HTN on

HTN Overview:

HTN is the largest employer of hospitality and foodservice apprentices in Australia. HTN is a not for profit organisation established by industry some thirty years ago to provide the hospitality and foodservice industries with committed, competent and skilled participants in the future. HTN recruits and employs enthusiastic and career minded culinary and foodservice apprentices and trainees for placement within its network of host businesses throughout NSW and the ACT.

HTN is committed to raising the awareness of the tourism, hospitality and foodservice industries as a career of choice.

Our services encompass the recruitment, employment and ongoing mentoring support of young people in the hospitality and foodservice industries – assisting them with workplace issues and career counselling as well as ensuring that they are receiving quality training both on the job and at TAFE/RTO Provider. Regular workplace mentoring visits are undertaken to both the apprentice/trainee and host business by our Employment Coordinators who are themselves, from industry. HTN’s mentoring model in conjunction with other specialised support mechanisms such as access to professional counselling services yields apprenticeship and traineeship completion outcomes that exceed industry average.

We meet our objective by operating to Group Training Organisation criteria, placing apprentices and trainees in suitable host businesses for “on the job training” while we act as their legal employer with responsibilities for their “Training Contract”. The apprentices/trainees are then provided the opportunity to experience a variety of host establishments throughout the training period as opposed to training in just one establishment for three years. At the completion of the training period, the result is a more employable graduate with a well-rounded repertoire of skills. Host businesses within the HTN Network range from high profile restaurants and hotels through to small cafes and institutional caterers.

HTN’s success and regard by industry can be attributed to the fact that we have employed, mentored and supported in excess of 11,000 apprentices and trainees over some thirty years.