• Sonja Dawson says government, TAFE, the employer and the apprentice themselves are all equally responsible for ensuring a highly skilled workforce.
    Sonja Dawson says government, TAFE, the employer and the apprentice themselves are all equally responsible for ensuring a highly skilled workforce.

So our TAFE graduates are falling short of the expectations and needs of industry. This is naturally the fault of those institutions responsible for the education and training of our apprentices.

Or is it?

This industry of ours has been generating some bad press of late: the penalty rates pay dispute, the demise of several former Banc boys’ empires, and the eternal apprentice “problem”.

Anthony Huckstep (Migrants, myths and the murkiness of mediocrity) has just added its latest incarnation: TAFE graduating students who don’t know their roux from their rouille.

Whether or not this is entirely true remains to be proven, but it appears as though blame is being unfairly laid at TAFE’s door. In the life of an apprentice there are four agents that will determine how much that apprentice knows and how far they go: the government, TAFE, the employer and the apprentice his or herself.

Of those four, TAFE is unfortunately in the position of least power when it comes to training our young apprentices.

While it would obviously be beneficial for the industry to see TAFE play a greater starring role in the lives of our future chefs, there is only so much that can be done with young and sometimes fickle recruits, who have been lured into the industry by its supposed glamour, added to dwindling state funds.

A qualification that once upon a time took four years to complete pretty soon will be achievable in two if current trends are anything to go by.

This has been happening in our tertiary institutions for years now: university tutors whose hands are forced into passing full fee-paying students who would otherwise deserve to be failed because they rely on private money. When public funds disappear from tertiary education, standards inevitably fall.

But what of the day-to-day training a young cookery apprentice is supposed to receive on the job? If we assume that apprentices spend 80 per cent of their time being trained at the workplace (a fairly wild assumption as we all know that the balance is usually tipped far less favourably than that) then who is it we should really be pointing the finger at when we assess our lacklustre workforce?

Just as no one could reasonably expect a multivitamin to pick up the slack in a beer and chips-laden diet, the onus of education cannot realistically be placed on TAFE.

TAFE should be the supplement to an already balanced and healthful diet of onsite training.

With the notoriously narrow margins of the restaurant industry, it makes – and has always made – good financial sense to hire apprentices. Unlike the good old days, however, when apprentices would have to wait until their third year before they were allowed anywhere near a fish to fillet it, we need our trainees to be able to perform these tasks now.

For the discerning apprentice who has carefully selected their workplace, and who is willing to put in the hard yards, excellence is possible much earlier than previously allowed, under the right instruction.

The pay-off for chefs and owners is there is no six-month limit on their employment and they are far cheaper than $51,400 pa (though hardly a princely sum by any stretch of the imagination).

I can’t help but think that the purposes of chefs Gilmore et al. would be better served by using their considerable industry clout to push for greater government support of our TAFE system and inspiring and training the able-bodied chefs of the future.  •



If you have a rant you need to get off your chest about an industry issue, email our editor at anthonyhuckstep@yaffa.com.au