Top tips for going global to plug chef shortage

By Tom Tanner, Sustainable Restaurant Association

With chefs about as hard to find as hens’ teeth, wouldn’t it be great if you could access a talent pool of millions and build a whole new kitchen team? We spoke to one restaurateur who’s done just that and wanted to share her tips and advice after nine months of fishing in this new recruitment pool and landing some big fish.

When a Tanzanian chef who’d been working at Stem & Glory asked if they’d help him to stay beyond his existing visa, owner Louise Palmer-Masterton set to work on a process that’s completely transformed the way she recruits and the make-up of her kitchen teams.

Nine months after becoming an approved visa sponsor, Stem & Glory boasts chefs from across the world, including Russia, Bangladesh, India and Nigeria.

“It’s opened up a global talent pool for us,” Louise says. “Advertise the posts and the applicants will come from all over the world if they know you are an approved visa sponsor,”

In fact, to prove the point, Stem & Glory which had been including mention of the visa sponsorship for some months, dropped it from a recent job advert. Result? No applicants.

Anyone thinking of following Stem & Glory needs to be aware that the process takes time, work and money. But, at a time when finding anyone to work in the kitchen is a massive struggle, Louise would say it has definitely been worth the effort. More than half of her workforce will be migrants very shortly,

“I would absolutely recommend it for any business because there is such a shortage here and so many people who want to come work here. But you will need some firepower to manage it.”

Here are some of her tips for making it work:

  • Work with an agency to manage the job applicants’ visa process for you. Stem & Glory have worked with Nation Better.
  • If completing the applications yourself, take great care over the forms, one mistake can set you back
  • Plan ahead. The visa processing time is unpredictable. For Stem & Glory, some have been completed in a couple of weeks, others have taken months. Stem & Glory has a new site opening in London in September and so has been working to that deadline.
  • Having a USP really helps – being a vegan brand has ensured Stem & Glory a steady stream of applicants
  • Avoid the language barrier: be aware that applicants have to pass an English test. One of Stem & Glory’s chosen chefs has failed four times – severely delaying his application.

“Some people find the whole process scary and don’t really like spending time and money on recruitment. I don’t understand that as it’s so important.

“We still have a bunch of vacancies, but overall more than half our workforce will be migrant. Yes, you need some firepower to manage the process, but I would recommend it to any business because there’s such a massive shortage of workers here and tonnes of people want to come and work here.”

  • Lou says she’s also been impressed by the great work ethic of her new recruits, particularly those from Africa. She’s been sure to pay all the migrant workers the same as the UK recruits, but adds that those from overseas can need some additional mentoring.

With the introduction of the new Skilled Worker category, UK businesses can now sponsor any type of chef – with the skill level dropping to RQF Level 3.

For a full guide to the process of become a skilled worker visa sponsor, head to the Home Office website. There are also a number of useful blogs, including this one on the UK Hospitality website which detail the process and the costs.

If the Stem & Glory experience is anything to go by, it’s a process that’s well worth the effort and cost.

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