Thursday, 3 May 2018
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, to the House. I have enormous regard for him. He has a very fundamental understanding of his brief and realises the importance of skills as well as education, and of training and apprenticeships as well as academics. We have not been good at realising that importance throughout the history of this country, to be quite frank about it. I have tabled this matter because I am contacted regularly by people in the hospitality industry who express their frustration about trying to get chefs. Our tourism industry is going exceptionally well. We have seen enormous growth in recent years. It provided an essential cushion as we were emerging out of recession, particularly in my area in County Clare. Young people were able to get jobs in the hospitality, restaurant and tourism industries when they could not get jobs anywhere else because people, thankfully, continued to visit Ireland. Some 650,000 people visited the Cliffs of Moher, which are 7 miles up the road from where I live, in 2013. They had 1.5 million visitors in 2017. I have no doubt that 2018 will see an even greater increase.
With that prosperity comes challenges. Many restaurants, particularly in my area, are finding it enormously difficult to get chefs. I know of one hotel in my area the owner of which was a chef himself. That is how he started out his professional life. He is near enough to retiring but has not retired because he has had to go back in to help out in the kitchen. That is how bad it is. Can we bring back the Council for Education, Recruitment and Training, CERT? CERT was good in its day. If we cannot, can we introduce something like it? There are many people who have cooking skills or a flair for baking and who want to become creative. If they were trained from the ground up through a traditional CERT-type operation, it could help deal with this problem or at least go some way towards doing so. One restaurateur told me that it is now easier to get a brain surgeon in Ireland than to get a chef. That is how challenging it is. Perhaps something could also be done to allow people from abroad to get work permits more easily that they have been able to up to now. I have no doubt that the Minister of State is fully aware of the challenges from speaking to the people he himself deals with in Waterford and other parts of the south east. I am sure this issue is not unique to counties Clare, Kerry and Limerick.
I thank Senator Martin Conway for his very important question and his very kind words. The hospitality sector is very important to the Irish economy. It is estimated to be worth approximately €3 billion a year to the Irish economy and to employ approximately 148,000 people. There are approximately 7,000 establishments in Ireland which serve food and require chefs and cooks. In 2015, the expert group on future skills needs conducted a study on the future needs of the hospitality sector, including skill needs for chefs and cooks. Its report, published in 2015, provided a set of recommendations designed to address the needs of the sector right up to 2020. They included recommendations on boosting skill supply but also on creating sustainable and rewarding career opportunities in the sector in order to reduce the level of staff turnover. As the Senator will know, there is a big problem with staff turnover in the hospitality industry. A key recommendation was the establishment of a national oversight and advisory group comprising key hospitality stakeholders, Departments and Government agencies and education and training providers to provide a forum for ongoing collaboration, to support the needs of the sector and to oversee the implementation of the expert group's recommendations.That group was established in 2016 and chaired by SOLAS for the first year, and is currently chaired by the Irish Hotels Federation, which I think was a good move. Senator Conway might know Michael Vaughan.
The group identified five priority areas. Significant progress has been made and a lot more has to be done. I refer to the promotion of careers in the sector; an audit of hospitality-related courses and facilities in both higher education and further education and training sectors; the development of apprenticeship and traineeship programmes; the launch of a dedicated Skillnets programme for the hospitality industry, which we have done; and making employment connections.
The group published its first progress report update last year. This is available on the skillsireland.iewebsite. Work is currently under way on the second progress update. More than 6,000 students are enrolled annually on hospitality-related courses in further and higher education, of which just under 2,500 are on courses to train as chefs and cooks. We are committed to expanding the number of registrations on apprenticeship and traineeship programmes to 50,000 by 2020. To date, 11 new apprenticeship programmes have been developed, following the Apprenticeship Council's first call for proposals in 2015, including a new commis chef apprenticeship, led by the Irish Hotels Federation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland working with Kerry ETB. The programme commenced last year with an initial enrolment of 25. This year the enrolment has increased to 41. That is working reasonably successfully but there is a turnover on programmes as people come and go. It can be difficult. Work is at an advanced stage on the development of a chef de partieapprenticeship, led by the same organisation. A number of groups around the country are involved, for example, Crumlin College and colleges in Kerry, Cork, Galway and Cavan, among others. It is expected that approximately 48 apprentices will enrol on that course. Work is also under way to develop an apprenticeship for sous chefs which is intended to be rolled out in 2019.
There are difficulties attached to being a chef. I refer to working conditions and unsavoury hours and it can be very difficult to get people into the industry. That is the reason the consortium was put together. We want to see what we can do to deliver apprenticeships for commis chefs and in related areas.
There is interest in this area. For instance, we provided hospitality level 5 and level 6 courses last year and we had more than 100 trainees enrolled in the programmes, which was good. Would we have liked more? Yes, we would, but it is not the case that we had not put a call out for those programmes. A call out goes out every so often and we had 100 trainees. The generation of interest among secondary school students in careers in the sector is also very important. The NCCA recently published a draft new specification for junior certificate home economics with a strong emphasis on culinary skills. There is an effort in all areas of education to deal with the problem of chef recruitment. In terms of the delivery of the programme we have the involvement of Crumlin College in Dublin, Coláiste Íde College of Further Education in Finglas, Kerry ETB, Cork ETB and ETB centres in Galway, Roscommon, Cavan and Monaghan, and Limerick, among other areas. We are beginning to roll out the programme.
I would never be untruthful in what I say to the Senator. I accept that it is difficult to attract people into the industry. I hope the body that was set up will continue to report back and come up with innovative ideas that might make it easier for people to come into the industry. There is a definite increase in the take-up of positions as chefs in recent years.
I acknowledge that those programmes are very important. I commend the Minister of State on his comprehensive reply. We will see how we get on. Other Departments have a role in this area, in particular in the granting of permits for chefs to come from abroad. That is another avenue that I can explore in the future. I thank the Minister of State.
If Senator Conway wants to meet me personally I can meet him at any stage or I can arrange a meeting if he wants to meet Michael Vaughan. The issue is of great interest to me. Apprenticeships and skills play an important part in the development of the sustainability of the economy and allow us to drive forward in the future. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach said, the hospitality industry in this country is very important and given that we regularly have tourists coming here we must ensure that all restaurants are at the top of their game in terms of chefs. Senator Conway is welcome to meet me or anybody from my Department.