Cork restaurant group targeting school-leavers to address sector shortages

Lee Scahill, Kitchen Training Co-ordinator with Apprentices, Avril O'Sullivan, Jose Ariza Escobar and Thiago Bejarano outside the Market Lane restaurant, Cork.

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One of Cork’s largest hospitality groups has introduced a new ‘earn as you learn’ apprenticeship programme to address the continuing shortage of qualified staff.

The Market Lane Restaurant Group, which employs up to 175 staff across its Market Lane, ORSO, Goldie, Elbow Lane and The Castle Café restaurants had traditionally relied on a combination of recruitment methods from university open days to exchange programmes with overseas students.

Recruitment in the hospitality industry has long been a significant challenge, made greater by the covid pandemic restrictions. Many bars and restaurants continue to operate restricted opening hours due to a shortage of staff.

The new programme aims to address this with the particular aim of attracting new recruits into the restaurant industry for the long-term.

Existing staff and new recruits will be given time off to attend culinary training at Munster Technical University (MTU) and then put their learning into practice on the job in one of the group’s restaurants under the supervision of qualified staff.

The restaurant pays salaries, above the minimum wage, and the Government subsidises college fees. The availability of college education is ongoing and the resulting qualifications are highly transferable.

One of the triggers for Market Lane to adopt this approach was the response to its “no experience required” advert for new commis chefs.

One of the successful applicants, Avril O’Sullivan, 22, a school-leaver and home cook, will start her restaurant Springboard Certificate in Culinary Skills programme in September at MTU. This is a training and education route that she had not previously thought was open to her.

The Market Lane has appointed former head chef Lee Scahill, who has been with the group for 13 years, as the kitchen training co-ordinator. He will oversee the programme and guide staff onto the most appropriate courses.

“Offering this opportunity to new staff members at the time of recruitment involves a leap of faith on our part and a big up-front investment in terms of resources”, said Conrad Howard, head of the Market Lane Group.

“But we believe that this is a great way forward to attract new blood into the industry and we are absolutely delighted that Avril will be starting out on a new career path in September.”

Mr Scahill said there was a huge fallout rate amongst culinary arts students all over the country, so they make sure the work they undertake reflects and reinforces what students are taught at college.

These young students feel that they are an integral part of a professional workforce — it’s not just a summer job — and they feel really good about that.”

“So, it also helps engender pride amongst students in their pursuit of a career in the restaurant industry, something we feel has been lacking in recent years,” he added.


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