Help wanted: P.E.I. trying to stir up more cooks

P.E.I.'s tourism industry is working hard to find more cooks for Island restaurants this summer, from new recruiting videos on social media to free training.

Tourism industry will try again with program to train young people as cooks and dishwashers

Cooks on P.E.I. are usually paid between $14 to $20 an hour, says the president of the P.E.I. Restaurant Association. (CBC)

P.E.I.'s tourism industry is working hard to find more cooks for Island restaurants this summer, from new recruiting videos on social media to free training.

"People just aren't lining up to fill cook positions," said Kathy Livingstone, director of training and education for the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I..

"It's right across the country, just finding people who are interested in working in that occupation seems to be a big challenge."

Last year, TIAPEI transformed a long-term job training program for youth to focus specifically on cooking skills.

The program included 10 weeks in the kitchen and classroom, then 12 weeks on-the-job training. 

During the classroom portion, the 12 students received a training allowance, then were paid by the employer once they started on the job.

Employers were reimbursed 50 per cent of the wages, and the program cost $84,000 in total.

Kathy Livingstone is looking for 10 young people on P.E.I. to participate in the Ready to Work program that starts in mid-February. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The hope was to fill jobs as line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers but the results were not what organizers had hoped for.

"They were not great," Livingstone said.

"It was just a combination of maybe it wasn't the right fit for the people in the program, they realized what it was actually all about when they got into it and realized that's really not for me."

Out of 12 participants, only two made it to the end.

"All of them at one point had found employment but they unfortunately didn't stick with it," Livingstone said. 

"So at the end we had two completed the program, which is pretty disappointing."

In 2017, for the first time, the Ready to Work program focused on preparing young people to work as cooks and dishwashers. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

This year, the program will only take 10 participants, and Livingstone is hoping to attract young people who are serious about cooking as a job. 

"We really have to stress to the individuals that these are the jobs and these are the conditions working in the kitchen," Livingstone said. 

The tourism industry association has also done a series of videos about jobs in cooking that they are sharing on social media and at career presentations.

The cook shortage is something the P.E.I. Restaurant Association is monitoring closely, said president Carl Nicholson, manager of the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers. 

He said it's causing some restaurants to either shorten hours or limit the amount of people they can serve.

"There have been a number of restaurants that have chosen to either not serve breakfast or not do lunch and just specialize in doing an evening meal."

Carl Nicholson says the restaurant industry needs to do more to promote cooking jobs. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Nicholson said the restaurant industry needs to do more to promote cooking jobs. At his restaurant, some of the workers are third generation.

"We need to be teaching people younger about cooking so that you have more people that may be interested in working in a kitchen environment," he said.

Wages and hours are also a factor, Nicholson said, but not as much as some people may think.

"Dishwashers start at minimum wage but cooks on P.E.I. are paid anywhere from $14 to $20 an hour," he said.

"I think as an industry we need to do a better job of promoting the types of jobs that are available and the types of benefits."