The success of the British team at the EuroSkills competitions this month demonstrates the skills and talent of our young people.
In the hospitality industry we have a plethora of competitions, ranging from Masterchef, both for amateurs and professional cooks, Futurechef, for school pupils, to the premiere Salon Culinaire competition organised by the Craft Guild of Chefs at the bi-annual ‘Hotelympia’ international trade exhibition.
Past winners of these competitions have gone on to greater success in the industry.
In addition to the cookery competitions, the restaurant industry’s skills are dissected by assorted restaurant critics and restaurant guides with their awards, rosettes and stars.
The most respected, the Michelin Guide, was published last month creating a further 15 Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK, nine of which are in London.
London is now the culinary capital of the world with 48 Michelin-starred restaurants and more than 150 different ethnic cuisines available.
Around 20 years ago most of these Michelin restaurants would probably have had a head chef from the continent.
However, today more than half of these restaurants have British head chefs and most of their brigades of cooks are also British.
This is a tribute to the work of FE college catering departments and training restaurants, and especially the apprenticeship providers in this sector.
Several of the chefs who initially trained at their local FE college have progressed to become national celebrities — Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal, Marco-Pierre-White.
Let us hope the promises made by all parties to substantially increase apprenticeship numbers were not just political rhetoric, but will be met with actual cash increases to grow the programmes
One of this year’s new Michelin Guide star winners, Jason Atherton of Social Eating House, started his career in the kitchen on the YTS programme.
Jason helped HIT (Hospitality Industry Training) launch its traineeship programme for the hospitality sector last year and practices what he preaches with trainees and apprentices in his kitchens.
To meet the demand for highly-trained chefs for the fine dining sector, my own company HIT has launched a professional chefs academy in partnership with three prestigious hotel chains and some independent restaurants.
A feature of our academy will be master-classes from Michelin-starred chefs, many of whom HIT currently works with.
The growth in eating-out in the past few decades, the explosion of restaurants and coffee shops in the high streets, plus the conversion of pubs into gastro pubs has required a continual demand for skilled chefs and front of house staff.
Overall, the FE skills sector has risen to this challenge to provide the skilled workforce needed to make the UK a destination of choice for overseas visitors and London, the culinary capital of the world.
I trust the politicians who wined and dined their way through their party conferences over the past few weeks, appreciated the skill and dedication of the hotel and catering staff who served them.
Let us hope the promises made by all parties to substantially increase apprenticeship numbers were not just political rhetoric, but will be met with actual cash increases to grow the programmes.
Similarly, the new minister seems to be looking carefully at the predecessor’s proposed reforms.
When he studies the various consultations, he should note that those actually involved in apprentices, employers and providers alike were adamant that the suggested reforms were not needed or would not work.
It was outside bodies, without the experience of delivering apprenticeships themselves, who failed to understand the minutia and the hidden wiring involved, who pressed for changes.
Funding directly to employers, rather than to providers is purely a political stance with no benefits to either party, just a further bureaucratic burden to employers.
In fact for independent learning providers, it will mean a substantial reduction in funding as they will have to charge employers VAT and pass it on, almost in full, to the government.
This can only mean a reduction in service and therefore quality or more providers withdrawing from apprenticeship delivery.