Relevance of current commercial cookery training – (against change)

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In the first part of this article I explored the relevance of a modern apprenticeship in cookery and summarized the arguments put by many chefs who are critical of current training.

I also expressed the concern that most employers appear not to fulfill a true triad agreement and actually inhibit their apprentices from reaching their full potential to become an upwardly mobile cook.

While this appears to be unfortunately true, there are still many benefits that remain in the contemporary “apprenticeship” training system. Commercial cookery, particularly in Australia, has become globalised and multicultural. Kitchens and menus have increasingly developed to be individualistic and many chefs are fashioning their own versions of the way food is prepared, presented and served. In an industry-wide context, to be a capable mobile cook it is increasingly necessary to develop more complex skills.

However the irony is that apprentices in a modern kitchen are individually exposed to a narrower skillset unique to their environment and consequently they need to regularly change employers during their formative years to really become proficient. The strength of a modern apprenticeship in cookery is, at the very least, that an apprentice learns the day to day conventions of a working life while earning a salary. So what are the dangers of changing the current apprenticeship system to fulltime training prior to commencing a working life?

  • Governments invest in training to support and encourage industry to train its artisans. Changing the apprenticeship system to fulltime education prior to fulltime employment could in turn hold back government investment in the development of skills that are fundamentally needed for business creation and growth.
  • If we completely remove the industry responsibility in the triad agreement to train, why should government continue to invest in training? As a result, the responsibility to invest in training could be placed on individual teaching institutes who will be forced to develop their own curriculum and charge appropriate fees.

  • We would cultivate a disjointed approach to curriculum development and delivery and subsequently the quality of a cookery course will be totally fee driven. The rich will be able to afford to attend the more expensive institutes while the less fortunate will only be able to attend the cheaper courses.

  • What then happens to institutes who do not have economies of scale, especially in the smaller country communities? How will a passionate young person obtain appropriate training with limited resources? Fee-driven institutions in turn will become more profit-focused, which will almost certainly result in an unmanageable downward spiral in the quality of training.

  • Notwithstanding many unfounded critics of TAFE cookery training, the training of Australian cooks has a proven excellent record which must be safeguarded. Cookery education is far too important to be left to local training institutes and needs to be centrally driven.
  • We already have an industry whose skill needs greatly differ from business to business. If we then oblige teaching institutions to develop their own course content we will additionally disjoint the training needs of the trade.

Could a full-time pre-employment qualification further discourage young people to enter cookery? A lot of cooks are practical-minded people, particularly at the apprenticeship age

  • The prospect of having to go to school to obtain a qualification as a cook prior to obtaining a job may well limit demand to a very few highly focused individuals who can afford the training. It appears difficult enough to persuade people to become cooks now and the situation could become impossible without the implied security that is inbuilt into an apprenticeship.

  • Additionally, employers will be likely to employ more mature workers and therefore disadvantage the young while reducing their opportunity to acquire a job and experience. It could become a catch-22: one cannot obtain a job as a cook because of lack of real cookery experience and one cannot get the experience because jobs are not available at that age.

While there are many obvious inconsistencies and inadequacies with the current apprenticeship training system, “it is better the devil one knows”. And provided managers and chefs become far more aware of the fundamentals in a competency training program and their actual responsibility in the training model, a modern apprenticeship can work.

Apart from a few employers who uphold their accountability, I suggest that a lack of understanding of the modern training model will continue to be the most important contributing factor inhibiting the output of well-trained mobile cooks.

Although I currently just favor the current system, given the way the industry is changing by many so called chefs and the slipping industry standards, it would not personally take much to change my mind nothwithstanding I would strongly argue and believe the industry would be the first casualty in such a move.

George Hill 11:16, 20 September 2011 (EST)