British Columbia

Proposed cuts to culinary arts courses cause concern amid 'enormous shortage of chefs'

Seven Vancouver high schools currently offer culinary arts instruction to students through teaching cafeterias. But that number will drop if recommendations in a report by Vancouver School Board management are adopted.

Report says courses should only continue if demand is high enough

The Vancouver School Board is considering changes to its culinary arts programs to save money. (CBC News)

Seven Vancouver high schools currently offer culinary arts instruction to students through teaching cafeterias, but a report by Vancouver School Board management suggests cutting that number.

The report was commissioned to find ways for the school board to save money.

Through the elective culinary arts courses, students are trained by Red Seal chefs in both Eastern and Western cuisine, as well as baking.

"This is invaluable training for every student," says Bill Tieleman, spokesperson for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 963, which represents school cafeteria employees and chefs.

He says the programs set students up for a successful career in the food service industry, adding around 1,000 students take the culinary arts program in a year.

During a presentation Wednesday evening to the VSB's student learning and well-being committee, VSB management said a minimum number of students should be required in order to continue the program. Each school would need enough student registrations to fill four classes a year.

Bill Tieleman, speaking on behalf of the union representing school cafeteria employees and chefs, says school board management failed to engage with staff, parents and students when creating its report. (Harman/CBC News)

If that threshold currently existed, Britannia Secondary would lose its program because it now offers one class and both David Thompson and John Oliver schools — which currently offer four classes — would be threatened should registration numbers fall.

"Unfortunately, if it's reduced ... those people [students] wouldn't have these opportunities," said Tieleman. "This is an enormous lost opportunity."

He says students interested in the program would be forced to commute across the city. Right now, no schools west of Oak Street offer a teaching cafeteria.

Tieleman says the proposed cuts come at a time when B.C.'s restaurant and food service industries need more skilled workers. Over the next ten years, B.C. is looking at a skilled labour shortage of more than 514,000 workers, according to the British Columbia Restaurant and Food Services Association.

"This a city that has an enormous shortage of chefs. We should be expanding this program," said Tieleman.

However, the VSB noted no decisions have been made and the committee simply heard an overview of the district's food operation services. It will be discussed again later this month.

"Pending stakeholder and board direction, community engagement will be carried out in relation to suggested next steps," it said in a statement.


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