The hospitality industry is facing a talent crisis. According to sector estimates, an additional 11,000 chefs are expected to be needed by 2022, however the college system reports a 51 per cent reduction in applications for chef qualifications across the UK.

UK-wide pub company Mitchells & Butlers – known for managing 1,784 pubs, bars and restaurants including brands such as Harvester and Toby Carvery – was not not impervious to these intense pressures.

Against this uncertain backdrop, its HR team recognised the urgent need to attract and retain talent more effectively than ever.

Its response was the creation of an innovative chef’s apprenticeship programme clearly aligned to business needs and challenges in the hospitality talent pipeline – fuelled in part by misconceptions about opportunities in catering careers and the impact of Brexit.

To inspire a future generation of passionate chefs, in 2016 the company significantly invested in the creation of this industry-leading Chefs’ Academy programme: a workshop-supported apprenticeship scheme, growing learners’ food skills above levels previously required by the business.

Leveraging myriad learning approaches such as skills training masterclasses, discussion, informal learning, technology and internal awards, 200 participants were able to apply their new skills in a range of settings, including prestigious events.

Going above and beyond the minimum apprenticeship requirement was central to the academy’s vision. The business included more masterclasses, extra-curricular activities and support, ultimately spending more much more than the levy contribution – £3,450 per learner across masterclasses, tutors, materials, etc – to ensure the quality and prestige of the programme.

The huge investment was worthwhile. 100 per cent of participants said they’d recommend the company to a friend; three-quarters (76 per cent) rated the support from their tutor as excellent; 91 per cent said the off-job practical elements were pitched at the right level to push their development; and 93 per cent rated the learning environment at their off-job academy sessions as excellent.

It’s also paid business dividends. To date, for businesses that employ a Chefs’ Academy apprentice, the initiative has delivered a 1.3 per cent average improvement in guest food quality satisfaction (equal to more than £11m of additional sales); a 10 per cent increase in numbers of meals served; and reduced food wastage by -£206 per period/per apprentice, saving the business approximately £650k annually.

The judges praised the “excellent holistic programme” for not only having a huge impact on individuals and the organisation, but also the dedication to changing attitudes in the sector. They also noted how it has made a clear impact in delivering CIPD’s vision for better work and working lives.

They said: “It’s excellent to see how the programme has increased retention rates, improved quality satisfaction, reduced food waste and encouragingly, engaged disadvantaged and vulnerable people.”

Moving forward the team has a vision to expand the programme locations and increase the use of more online tools within the training, as well as aiming to broaden their already excellent engagement with schools, colleges and job fairs through an ambassador programme.