Shortage of hospitality staff offers local careers

The disruption of the past 18 months has contributed to a shortage of chefs in the Western Isles – and opened up opportunities for local people to launch good careers in the hospitality industry.

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 2:43 pm
James has switched from running the highly-successful Digby Chick restaurant in Stornoway to presiding over catering courses at the college

Some businesses have been unable to re-open or are still working to restricted hours because of staff shortages with chefs in particularly short supply.

Some furloughed staff have moved away, or changed careers, and now have to be replaced.

However James MacKenzie, formerly owner of the acclaimed Digby Chick restaurant in Stornoway and now revitalising the hospitality course at Lews Castle College sees opportunity in current circumstances – not least for school leavers with few or no academic qualifications.

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Catering courses at the campus in Stornoway could be crucial in filling a shortage of hospitality workers

When the new term kicks off at Lews Castle, there will be an Access Course for students without qualifications other than an interest in hospitality.

“A lot of chefs don’t apply themselves through school,” said James. “They just want to cook!”.

There are still places available though numbers may continue to be restricted because of Covid precautions. “At the moment,” he said, “there are only six working areas.

" When we get back next month, we are hoping there will be a few more. It is a really good introduction to hospitality and I hope that all our courses will be fully subscribed to”.

Another course will lead to a National Certificate qualification while there are also two introductory courses for pupils, at S2 and S6. The intention is they will embrace hospitality as a whole, with cooking at the heart of the courses.

James said: “Shortage of chefs has always been a problem but I think with Covid, quite a few have gone looking for a job outside hospitality.

" Now things are opening up, there is a real shortage not just of chefs but of trained front-of-house staff – it’s across the board.

" We are trying to meet the needs of the local industry in all these roles. One of our objectives is to get a training restaurant at the College up and running by the middle of next year. That would cover all aspects of hospitality.

“A lot of us remember what it was like when the training restaurant was there before – it lasted about 15 years and had a great reputation. If we could have young local people learning the trade, making use of the produce from polycrubs and polytunnels, it would be really exciting”.

James own career course took him to college in Inverness and then to work in Fife where he learned that training standards were far higher than at home. When he eventually opened his own business, one of his ambitions was to train local staff – which he is now doing in a different setting.

The revitalisation of the hospitality course was welcomed by Rob McKinnon, chief executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism.

“Staff shortages are a real problem. We are aware of businesses that are struggling to find staff for a range of reasons including fewer workers from eastern Europe.

" It can’t be solved overnight but it must make sense to create a home-grown workforce with skills they can use locally for as long as they choose, or carry into a great global industry.”