Minding The Skills Gap

Monday, October 10, 2016

There is no denying that skills shortage is having a huge impact on the Casual Dining Industry,” says James Hill, Owner of Quarter Lounge in Carlisle and winner of Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or 2004.

“There is no denying that skills shortage is having a huge impact on the Casual Dining Industry,” says James Hill, Owner of Quarter Lounge in Carlisle and winner of Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or 2004. “Now is the time to take action and show the next generation the amazing opportunities that our sector has to offer.

For casual dining, ‘skills shortage’ is no buzzword... It is a reality, and one that is affecting every aspect of our industry. We’re all only too aware that we need to get more talented chefs into kitchens ...and fast.

We live in a very social world these days, and at times the hospitality industry can be an antisocial business – hours are long and kitchens can be tough places to work. But, for those who are dedicated, hardworking and not afraid of a bit of hard graft, the opportunities are there for the taking.

When I opened my first restaurant back in 2007, it was certainly not without its challenges. It required a lot of hard work, passion, and some very antisocial hours! But this paid off, as nine years later I have managed to grow and expand the business to open two more venues – including my latest casual dining venture, Quarter Lounge, in Carlisle. You can’t beat that for job satisfaction.

There is no doubt in my mind that the casual dining industry offers young people a wealth of opportunity and a fantastic career path. The challenge for us now, as an industry, is to unite and showcase these opportunities to the next generation of hospitality talent.

For me, this is why competitions like Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or are so vital... “

A ‘springboard’ to the industry

“When I started out, back in 2004, Toque was a great springboard to really see what the Industry was like – it not only gave me hands-on experience of working in a professional kitchen, but it inspired me to go on to open my first restaurant. Many students in catering colleges are wrapped in cotton wool, and it is competitions such as these that take them right out of their comfort zone and into the real world.

It’s important that competitions like this focus on all aspects of the Industry – not just the glitz and glamour of Fine Dining ... Yes some people go on to become Michelin starred chefs, but others go on to be business owners, entrepreneurs and managers across the wider industry. It opens your eyes to the massive variety of opportunities hospitality has to offer.

Students also need to be aware of the real, pressing issues facing our industry today.

Nutrition, for example, is incredibly important right now. As a business we offer a healthy balanced menu, use high quality suppliers and always try to use local produce. If someone joins my team who can demonstrate a good understanding of these things, and has ideas, that’s a great bonus.”

Why ‘casual’ is king

“The casual dining sector may not, at first glance, have all the glamour of fine dining, but it’s a great environment to work in and is designed to help staff thrive – with targets and promotion opportunities for those who want to work their way up.

Also, casual dining offers a lot more versatility. You can change and adapt more easily.

Staff aren’t constrained to be a certain way or have a certain service style, but can let their personality shine through. There’s definitely more of a personal touch in this business, and that’s something that customers relate to.

If I was to give advice to youngsters looking to really shine in the industry, I would say understand that there’s going to be highs and lows. When you hit the lows you’ve got to pick yourself up. And don’t lose sight of your goals. Running your own business isn’t without challenges, and when I hit bumps in the road I draw on the things that inspired me to launch my career in the first place, and this drives me forward and motivates me to do better.”

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