It’s long been accepted that the vocational education system in the UK is fundamentally broken. For years, consecutive governments have attempted to restructure and reform technical learning to no avail. T levels have been promised as the solution to the vocational education debate.
Catering and hospitality is an example of the current failing of our vocational education system to produce young people with the skills employers need. When it comes to numbers of employees, the hospitality sector is only behind the civil service, education and health sectors. As the sector grows, so too does the demand for people. But it’s a challenge uniting all restaurant and takeaway owners: the supply of skilled individuals just isn’t there.
A recent report from the thinktank Centre for London found that roughly 10 per cent of qualified chefs leave the profession every year. One of the most significant reasons for this is that young people are not adequately trained to cope with the rigours of working in catering. Many have not had first-hand experience of working in a kitchen. There is a huge inconsistency in available catering courses across the country and an outdated curriculum. Students are taught how to cook but not how a commercially successful business works and their role within that.
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Technical skills 'not enough'
The Centre for London report made some notable suggestions as to the solution to the skills crisis facing the hospitality sector in the capital but, outside of its London-specific lens, the catering T level proposes a solution at a national level. Sitting on the employer panel appointed to help shape the curriculum, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to improve the future of technical education. We’re responsible for the content of the qualification and ensuring that it reflects the needs of the industry.
For all industries, and especially catering, vocational education needs to reflect the rapidly changing world of work. It’s not enough to learn technical skills – a person must also experience the pressures of a work environment during their education before they are launched into it to sink or swim. T levels can deliver this if structured properly. We hope the catering T level will provide students not just with the practical skills but the experience to ensure that they prosper in their new working environment.
T levels: a game-changer?
Along with exposing students to the world of work, so they are more prepared for their careers, T levels can also give them insight into how a business is run, which is vital if they are to launch their own one day and lead the next round of food innovation. This is particularly relevant for the hospitality sector, where it’s well-known that innovation and disruption comes from small business entrepreneurs, who often drive the newest and most exciting food trends. Think of the explosion in street food over the past five years: the perfect example of the entrepreneurism behind the takeaway sector changing the food we eat. Catering is one of the only career paths where owning your own business in the long term is a more than achievable goal, if you are equipped with the right skills and knowledge.
That’s important for parents to understand, too. For too long, technical education has been perceived as the less-challenging sibling to A levels. By giving young people training and an introduction to what it’s like to run your own business as well as the skills specific to their chosen sector, we hope to show just how much opportunity T levels can provide for young people.
There is a huge responsibility to get this right. Young people should be given the best possible chance to succeed. T levels could be a game-changer for generations to come.
Hugh Mantle is director of the National Federation of Fish Friers and a member of the British Takeaway Campaign