Newcastle College has teamed up with one of the North East’s leading hotel and hospitality groups after one of its top chefs warned it could be hit hard by skills shortages.

Gainford Group, which owns several hotels and restaurants across the region,including The Vermont Hotel and Aveika, has partnered with the College to launch a pre-apprenticeship training scheme.

The cream of the crop will be offered full apprenticeships with the group following the 10 week course, which will lead to a Level One NVQ in food preparation and cooking with food service.

Executive Group Chef Ken Thompson, a former Group Kitchen Manager with 21 Hospitality, is spearheading the programme and revealed: “There’s a worryingly large skills gap within the hospitality and leisure sectors.

“Our industry is caught between a rock and a hard place. In Newcastle – as is the case in many other cities across the UK – there has been an explosion of restaurants.

“Even in the last five years so many new places have opened and all of these kitchens need people to cook the food and all of the restaurant areas need people to serve that food. The fact is they’re just not there.”

Now, during the UK’s first Hospitality Apprenticeship Week, he has called for greater co-operation between business bosses and local colleges to meet the growing demand for fresh talent.

“I have a longstanding relationship with the college and I instigated the partnership,” he added.

“Both the Gainford Group and Newcastle College understand their responsibility and the need for apprenticeships within our industry.

“I’ve been involved with apprenticeships for a very long time so I know that the model works.

“There’s nothing better for students – and prospective apprentices and employees – than bringing them into the college where they’re ready to absorb as much information as we’re able to give them.

“It’s out of necessity really because I don’t think our industry will survive and thrive unless we develop some fresh talent.”

Gainford Group works with colleges across the North East to prepare students for the workplace in a variety of roles within healthcare, property, hotels and leisure.

Ken continued: “We have quite a few employees who have been on full-time or part-time courses at Newcastle College at some stage.

“They have such a significant share of the local training market that they will always develop talent that is of interest to our industry.

“Newcastle College are increasingly in tune with what’s required to fill the skills gap.

“They’ve got their finger on the pulse and we enjoy a really healthy relationship.”