By Chef Daniel Pliska, CEC, AAC
For countless generations, an apprenticeship has been the way to learn a trade. Passing down knowledge from a master or a journeyman to the apprentice while working on the job is the basic model for this style of learning.
Modern culinary apprenticeships have not changed that much over time compared to the traditional European apprenticeships that have been used for hundreds of years. ACF apprenticeship programs have four different parts that need to work in tandem to be successful. They are: the job site (kitchen), the supervising chef, the educational site (the school) and the apprentice. Each one of these areas can pose challenges to start and/or maintain a successful ACF apprenticeship program. As a former supervising chef in a ACF culinary apprenticeship program and a past member of the ACF national apprenticeship committee myself, I would like to explore the current advantages and challenges (that can be overcome) for apprenticeships based on some of my experiences and those of other chef-educators and supervising chefs.
They build a better workforce. Staffing shortages continue to remain a major problem for the culinary and hospitality industry today. There are two factors that I believe are creating these shortages; one is that the culinary profession has changed and is not seen by many as a viable option for a career path for a variety of reasons. Secondly, difficult, physical jobs may not be as desirable an option as they once were.
Apprenticeships can address both issues: They offer hands-on learning experiences and make it easier for certain individuals to enter the field if that’s what they choose to do. Apprenticeships teach transferable real-world skills to be able to handle challenges. These programs are also beneficial for chefs because those who apply typically show up ready to learn and work.
“Apprentices gain stronger skill sets than those in school alone and build a family environment at their work sites, which help with some of the physical and mental aspects found in our industry,” says Pastry Chef-Educator Brian Peffley, CEPC, CCE, AAC, from the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. “For the apprentice, it is an affordable, quality education. At the same time, the chef-supervisor
can share their craft with the apprentices who have the same mindset as their chef and love their craft. Properties that employ apprentices can foster skills from within and build
retention in their workforce.”
They teach transferable skills. “Earn while you learn (on the job)” has long been the motto for apprenticeships. Along with that is the fact that being enrolled and working in a formal apprenticeship program creates a real-world aspect for the apprentice through the daily challenges and time constraints that are found in the culinary profession. Learning to deal with the stress of time management will — over time — condition apprentices to build a mental toughness or grit that will enable them to excel.
“A career in culinary arts — as found in a formal apprenticeship — teaches apprentices
to be critical thinkers in a hands-on, fast-paced environment,” says Chef-Educator Chrystal Tatum, CEC, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas. “These skills
are in demand and transferable. After feeding thousands of people and coordinating what could be compared to as an orchestra, other hurdles seem much smaller. The advantage is rather than just one path — school or work — you get the benefit of both book knowledge and hands-on learning.” Not to mention, being mentored by a qualified certified chef helps the apprentice to learn the chef’s personal style, as well as successful working techniques for the challenges a chef faces and overcomes daily.
They offer positives for supervisors. Supervising chefs often find tremendous gratification in passing on their knowledge to the next generation of chef apprentices and are supported by knowing the apprentice is serious about the desire to become a chef. This is made apparent by the candidate making the commitment to enroll as an apprentice.
After apprentices have completed their programs, they are much more likely to be considered for higher levels of advancement to sous chef, or possibly an entry level chef in some instances, since they have accumulated the hours of work and have proven themselves in a commercial kitchen.
“We strive to provide young people the opportunity for growth or stability,” says Chef Joshua Hedrick, executive chef of the luxury Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Oregon, where apprenticeship students first learn the fundamentals in the lodge kitchen and go on to work both morning and evening shifts in all of the resort’s foodservice outlets. “Here, we have a built-in career track, and we offer promotions and raises. I believe there are plenty of young people who are interested and even passionate about culinary but not necessarily given a clear direction on entry or growth. I believe we have something very special to offer someone looking to build a culinary career. [We] have been able to recruit and retain a stream of serious culinarians, some of which have gone on to become chefs, chef-owners and general managers.”
They give culinary school programs a competitive advantage. Pastry Chef-Educator William Racin, CEPC, from Westmoreland County Community College in Pennsylvania, sees a renewed enthusiasm toward apprenticeship programs and their history of success in the hospitality industry. His school has a large enrollment in the apprentice option for this semester, along with many employers who are seeking to mentor apprentices and provide them with the necessary tools for success in the industry.
“If we as an educational institution can reinstall core values like craftsmanship, time management and work ethic into students, their chances for success will be achievable,” he says. “The culinary apprenticeship option is a full immersion into the craft. It immediately forces the apprentice to learn time management. This is a robust program that incorporates work, school and personal life running cohesively to develop young culinarians into professionals. The quality of an apprentice is unmatched since the capacity for change is already being developed.”
There are fewer apprenticeship applicants today. Finding a program, as well as a qualified certified chef supervisor, can be a challenge since apprenticeship programs are not offered in every area of the country.
“The challenges we are facing are similar to the entire industry — we have to find enough apprentices to fill out the program,” Chef Hedrick says.
Chef Racin also feels that the demand for apprentices outstrips the supply. “We here at the college only have a select number of apprentices to recommend, and the industry is currently facing a historic drought in employment,” he says, adding that many employers who want to have apprentices in their kitchens cannot meet the required work processes or meal periods needed by apprentices to complete the program.
Some apprentices end up leaving the industry. Many students of culinary and pastry arts want to learn how to cook and/or bake; however, some do not have the intention of working in the field as a professional chef. Perhaps they want to work in a related field, employed as a nutritionist, culinary arts instructor, food journalist, etc. If that is the case, perhaps a hands-on apprenticeship is not the route for them. Apprenticeship education, when compared to a full-time culinary school, is not as in-depth since the apprentice does not spend as much time in school while working on the job in an apprenticeship.
Current apprenticeship programs require some adaptations. Apprenticeships can be very intense and sometimes require more time and effort than the student is willing to give, when compared to going to a culinary school alone.
“Younger generations value the work-life balance much more than previous generations who endured the long hours required to work in our profession,” Chef Tatum says. “Chefs who went through that process of ‘paying their dues’ cannot expect younger people today to go through the same crucible that they did 20, 30, 40 years ago or more. Chefs today must mentor more by helping apprentices with their coping skills and teaching them how to adapt to problems and challenges found in our industry. They cannot just tell them to suck it up.”
The good news is that the culinary industry is at a crossroads, and change is afoot. Indeed, Chef Tatum says, mental health is a piece of our industry that continues to need to be addressed. “Students today do not always have the coping skills needed, so we as their mentors must help teach them how to adapt.”
Due to the labor shortage in our industry, along with the unrealistic expectations for those entering the culinary and pastry field, apprenticeships are ripe for a comeback. Hopefully along with the desire of many veteran working chefs who feel the need to give back and mentor the next generation of chefs, formal apprenticeship training will go on for many more generations.
ACF’s Apprenticeship Programs
Interested in starting an apprenticeship program at your establishment? ACFEF has the tools for you to start a training program and become an ACFEF-recognized apprenticeship program.
The ACF currently offers three levels of training for apprentices. Once finished, apprentices can earn a different level of certification depending on the program. The levels are:
• Fundamentals Cook, which requires a minimum
of 1,000 hours of on-the-job training, coupled with 90 hours of related instruction with the end goal of earning the ACF Certified Fundamentals Cook or ACF Certified Fundamentals Pastry Cook at completion.
• Culinarian, which requires a minimum of 2,000 hours of on-the-job training, coupled with 240 hours of related instruction with the end goal of earning the ACF Certified Culinarian or ACF Certified Pastry Culinarian.
• Sous Chef, which requires a minimum of 4,000 hours of on-the-job training, coupled with 420 hours of related instruction with the end goal of earning the ACF Certified Sous Chef or ACF Certified Working Pastry Chef. Learn more at acfchefs.org.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of National Culinary Review. Click here to download the issue.