Mentoring—walking the talk


With the hospitality industry’s high apprentice drop-out rate and drastic skills shortage, strong mentoring for young workers and apprentices is more vital than ever. So, what are the challenges involved in shaping the restaurant leaders of the future? Zoe Meunier investigates

From Matt Moran to Luke Mangan, Australia’s leading chefs are taking a proactive stance in nurturing the next generation of workers. Why? Because their industry depends on it.

“Figures show it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain people into apprenticeships in the hospitality industry—at the moment, the completion rate of apprentices is only about 40 per cent,” says Juliana Payne, CEO of Restaurant & Catering Australia (R&CA), adding that the first six months is the biggest drop-out danger period.

This completion rate, the lowest since 2008-9, is a large contributing factor to the serious skills shortage in the industry, with a recent survey by the Australian Hotels Association Victoria and Community Clubs Victoria in collaboration with TSS Immigration finding 83 per cent of respondents found it difficult to hire and retain staff from the local labour market.

To counter this, R&CA recently submitted an application to the Federal Government’s industry specialised mentoring services for around $3 million to provide direct personal mentoring to 3,220 apprentices over the next two years.

“What mentoring does is provide the skills to deal with the workplace and hopefully resolve any issues before the apprentice decides they’re not going to continue,” says Payne. “It can be a high-pressured job in the service area of a kitchen—there’s a lot going on and you need to be on the top of your game. We’ve found that if young new apprentices who come into that environment have someone who is a sounding board for them and can give them a heads up of what to expect, it really helps to keep them in the role.”

Payne sees a skilled mentor as being strong yet empathetic, having a ready ear but also prepared to give advice and help through difficult times.

“Sometimes they might also need some mediation skills, because what works very well with the mentoring program is if the young employees are having a bit of a run-in with their employer, they can talk to their mentor who can then liaise with their employer and hopefully broker a preferable outcome.”

Today’s leaders shaping tomorrow’s

Perhaps nobody knows better the value of strong mentoring within the industry than the country’s leading restaurateurs.

“I was lucky enough to have mentors that I looked up to and I feel lucky to be in a position where I can be there for others,” says chef and restaurateur Matt Moran, whose hospitality group Solotel has a strong focus on the development of their staff through training, coaching and mentoring, succession planning and career progression. “I believe that creating a great team of people around you is integral to success and the more you put into your team, the more they’ll give in return to your business.”

Moran has some sage advice on how to be a strong mentor to the next generation.

“There’s often a misconception in hospitality whereby people think it isn’t a viable career or that it’s the job you have while you’re studying for the real job. It’s important that we change that mindset and show people it’s an industry full of opportunity.”—Matt Moran

“Be yourself. Be honest. Tell your story. Tell them mistakes you made along the way and what you learnt from them. Encourage them. Be approachable. Set realistic expectations. Give consistent feedback, both good and bad. Make sure you’re creating a good culture in the company and workplace so that staff feel supported and that it’s an environment they can thrive in.”

Moran believes supporting young hospitality workers and fostering their development can also go a long way to changing the mindset many people have about the industry.

“There’s often a misconception in hospitality whereby people think it isn’t a viable career or that it’s the job you have while you’re studying for the real job,” says Moran. “It’s important that we change that mindset and show people it’s an industry full of opportunity.”

Echoing Moran’s sentiments is chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan, who has been at the forefront of many mentoring initiatives with the aim of championing the industry and addressing the “dire skills shortage”. In 2005, he co-founded the Appetite for Excellence award program with his business partner Lucy Allon “to recognise and encourage young chefs, waiters and restaurateurs in the industry”, and more recently set up the Inspired Series in partnership with Sydney TAFE, which gives students access to the knowledge and experience of some of the best chefs and hospitality professionals through a series of Q&A style sessions.

“Hospitality is a tough business. It’s long hours, hard work and weekends spent away from family and friends,” says Mangan. “But we want to recognise what a rewarding career path it can be. It’s important to continue to help our future generation of hospitality talent to grow and stay in our industry.”

Challenging unrealistic expectations

Both Moran and Mangan concede that mentoring the next generation of hospitality workers is not without its challenges—and say that the primary one is the gap between expectation and reality.

“I’m so often asked by young chefs how long it will take them to learn it all or before they can get a TV deal,” says Moran. “I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years now and I still don’t know it all but to me, that’s the joy in the industry and what I loved about it starting out. It’s ever-evolving with endless opportunities for growth. You can’t be in it because you want to be famous; you genuinely have to love it, be committed to the job and work hard.”

Mangan concurs. “I think shows like Masterchef have given people unrealistic expectations about what is involved in being a chef. So, I think one of the biggest challenges when mentoring young people in the industry is to ensure that their expectations are realistic and they know you need to put in the hard yards; this isn’t your average nine-to-five career.”

Despite the challenges, mentoring in the hospitality industry can also be hugely rewarding says Payne, who will be actively recruiting for industry professionals to take on the role of mentor should the government funding be given the green light.

“Mentors can build their own skills and be exposed to new things happening in the industry. It’s good for their own growth and development while giving them
the satisfaction of assisting, cultivating and nurturing a young apprentice right through to the end of their course.”

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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