‘Who wants to work for £4 an hour just because you’re on an apprenticeship?’ Jack Stein on launching the Rick Stein Chef Apprenticeship

The Staff Canteen

Following the announcement of Rick Stein’s chef apprenticeship scheme last week, we spoke to Jack Stein about the programme, what it means for the Cornish restaurant group and the industry as a whole

The scheme is, in essence, a normal apprenticeship scheme, similar to what the Rick Stein Group has been doing for “the best part of 30 years.”

Jack Stein, son of Rick Stein and chef director of The Rick Stein Group, is proud to have worked with apprentices for so long - in fact, he told us, his first apprentice, Edward Cooke, is now the executive chef at The Fat Duck, proving that an apprenticeship can lead to the best opportunities in the industry.

The new programme, he explained, is a day release scheme, whereby students spend 40 hours working in one of the group's Cornwall restaurants - The Seafood Restaurant, The Cornish Arms or the Rick Stein Café, and 8 hours a week in an educational setting, which, for their purposes, are created in partnership with the local Truro and Penwith College.

Open to anyone over the age of 16, with no previous experience needed. successful apprentices will graduate with a Level 2 Professional Cookery qualification, having learnt skills such as filleting fish; how to make classic sauces and professional vegetable preparation.

'It's about paying them the same rate they're going to get paid when they leave the scheme'

What makes this scheme different, he explained, is that they are not only offering training but also quality of life features: the scheme treats apprentices as regular members of the team, to make the proposition more attractive.

"It's about paying them the same rate they're going to get paid when they leave the scheme and guaranteeing them a job at the end of it."

Then, should they complete it successfully, "allowing them to use the benefits of our staff," which includes a 50 percent discount, free meals, dining experiences and tronc payments.

According to Jack, this is quite the change from what the industry used to do, whereby apprentices were funded by the government and paid a much lower rate than the rest of the team. 

“We thought it was time to address that and actually pay them the same rate as everyone else. So, under 18s will be on £9.30 and over 18s on £9.60 an hour,” he said.

'We're doing something that is more understanding of the difficulties of the industry'

Jack explained that as they have taken on apprentices for decades, and already have a learning development team, an academy at the local school and run an in-house NVQ training programme in their cookery school, it wasn’t too much of a change to switch to the new programme.

The change was less about doing something new and more about altering how they use the schemes they already have in place to make it more attractive to prospective applicants.

Most appealingly, the higher wages make it easier for people to retrain and join the industry without having to worry about taking a pay cut from whatever job they were previously working, he explained: “Who wants to work for £4 an hour just because you're on an apprenticeship? We want these people to be proud of their job, we want them to be proud of the industry they are going into.”

The lockdowns and the instability of the last few years have forced the group to plan for a multitude of outcomes - from potentially losing the restaurants or their teams, to the business growing and having an excess of staff.

As we emerge from the pandemic, he said: “It's just time to put those things into practice.”

“For us, it's us going 'we're doing something better than we did before.' We're doing something that is more understanding of the difficulties of the industry.”

Just the Beginning?

While there are plans in the pipeline to expand the scheme, it will launch as back of house only, as, at the moment, they are running schemes for their front of house team that they are happy with. Eventually, it could include apprenticeships for sommeliers, front of house workers and restaurant and hotel managers.

"From mine and Rick's perspective, we want to get back to the point where every restaurant has got an apprentice in it, who's learning the trade and is not just being underpaid but is being paid really well and is doing that daily release program to get the qualifications.”

Given the current staffing crisis, spreading the word about schemes like this one is of crucial importance, he stressed.

"We are in difficult times, everyone in the industry is feeling it, [and] if other people see this scheme and realise it's something they can implement, then great." 

"Nothing is a secret in our industry. In my opinion, you need to share the strategies and tactics you're using because the more we talk about it, the more we find good solutions." 

To join the scheme, or for more information, visit the restaurant group's website here.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th April 2022

‘Who wants to work for £4 an hour just because you’re on an apprenticeship?’ Jack Stein on launching the Rick Stein Chef Apprenticeship