CEDA’s technical support adviser, Peter Kay, believes that more young blood is required in the sector, as many technicians are now reaching retirement age:
In recent months, much has been made of the need for new blood in the catering industry and questions have been raised as to the best method for encouraging more young people into many different roles. Yet the ever-increasing demand for service and maintenance technicians, a group whose role is so crucial yet so often hidden, has to some extent been forgotten. This demand has been driven by a number of factors.
Arguably the most important of these is that catering equipment has become considerably more sophisticated and menu-specific in recent years and therefore requires more complex maintenance from more highly skilled technicians. As kitchens become more complex, operators are at last beginning to recognise the need for regular preventive maintenance. Even so, breakdowns do still occur and can be hugely disruptive for a business; a rapid response to these issues is therefore critical.
In addition, a greater strain is now being placed on this equipment, thanks to the growth in the eating out sector; in 1989 just 10% of consumers dined out at least once a month; by 2015 this figure had risen to 67%. The sector was reported to be worth £91bn in 2019.
Yet those technicians who currently resolve these issues on a daily basis, who originally started their careers as plumbers and electricians, gradually acquiring the skills and accreditations necessary to work on catering equipment, are now beginning to retire. This problem is exacerbated as the movement of engineers from other industries has been limited by ever-tightening regulation.
To bring new blood into the industry and prevent a shortfall of appropriately qualified technicians, the answer must surely lie in the introduction of new apprentices and is the reasoning behind CEDA’s new apprenticeship programme, partnering with ECTA.
Such a programme will create a highly skilled workforce and bring young people into employment. They will gain greater knowledge and skill sets, directly related to catering equipment in a way which the industry has not seen before. This will lead to far higher standards across the board, ensuring catering equipment is suitably maintained, thus leading to a reduced number of breakdowns. Should issues arise, they will be resolved within an even shorter timeframe than at present.
Those employers who employ apprentices will also see the benefits of such a scheme. Employees who have developed under the guidance of their employers are more likely to remain committed to a company. Employers would therefore see an upturn in talented staff retention. Employers who assist in the development of their employees will also be seen as a more attractive company to work for and the number of applications for roles by high quality applicants should increase.
Apprentices can be hugely useful for employers, even as they learn. Productivity within the company should increase, as tasks can be delegated to apprentices.