The hospitality program prompts IT professional Dwayne Brown to change careers at age 45
Dwayne Brown, 45. Photo / Zoe Hunter
Dwayne Brown is changing careers at 45.
After more than two decades working with computers and information technology, the Tauranga man now wants to become a chef.
He is sharing his story
A recent survey by the Restaurant Association of New Zealand revealed that 80 per cent of its members were not fully staffed, 92 per cent found it difficult to fill mid-level positions and 65 per cent found junior positions difficult to fill.
Brown is one of 11 new students who are part of HospoStart’s class of 2023 – a program that prepares hospitality job seekers and is run in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development.
The HospoStart program has so far run in areas such as Waikato, Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington, but this year it has expanded to Tauranga due to demand for entry-level workers in the Bay of Plenty.
Brown said he has been working in the IT sector for the past 25 years and decided about four years ago that he wanted to be a chef.
After deciding to change careers, he signed up for a barista course with Toi Ohomai.
“I was adamant about change, and time went on, and then Covid hit.”
After more thought, she decided to take the plunge and signed up for HospoStart, and has wanted to become a chef ever since.
“I thought being a chef required you to be quite creative. But this course has shown me that there is much more to the logistical and methodical process.”
Brown said it was “scary” to change careers in her 40s.
“For me, leaving 25 years in IT was a big deal.”
But he said that he finds enjoyment in his work, and that hospitality will be “more social and rewarding”.
After five years, he wanted to be a fully trained chef.
Karlene Pouwhare, 43, graduated from a business course in Toi Ohomai – and also started her own business making wire jewelry – before deciding to switch careers to hospitality.
Pouwhare now plans to become a bar manager, or one day open his own restaurant.
He said he started the HospoStart program “just the same”.
His previous job in hospitality ended after the business closed, post-Covid-19, so he studied business. He even started a business making wire jewelry.
But after realizing his passion for cooking and his “desire to improve people skills,” Pouwhare said he wanted to pursue hospitality again.
“I could do the business side without breaking a sweat, but I needed to improve my people skills. Besides, I like cooking.’
Simone Dobbie, 25, said they moved from Wellington to their hometown of Tauranga to further their hospitality skills.
They said they wanted to get some domestic experience in hospitality, as their previous jobs had been in housekeeping and cleaning.
“I wanted something more forward.”
Now, after falling in love with the art of making coffee, Dobbie had aspirations of becoming a bartender.
“I want to serve people coffee. I like coffee, and I like meeting new people and being in cafes.’
Dobbie said the HospoStart program was a great way for people who had been out of work and still didn’t know what their skill set was to learn and gain new qualifications in a supportive environment.
Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said a recent survey of its members indicated that 80 per cent of respondents were not fully staffed.
The survey showed that 92 percent of its members found it difficult to recruit for a senior mid-level position, and 65 percent found it difficult to recruit for junior-level positions.
“Although the 2022 workforce reversed the decline seen in 2021 to 135,000 workers, at 0.37 percent, this is the lowest level of growth in more than 10 years.”
Bidois said staff numbers in the Bay of Plenty remained stagnant from 2021 to 2022, despite a 5.4 per cent increase in the number of outlets.
“The Restaurant Association estimates that 30,000 more workers are still needed to join the nation’s restaurants, cafes and bars.”
Bidois said capacity shortages typically mean owners are working long hours, reducing opening hours and extending service.
“The BoP is a key tourist destination and businesses in this region want to be able to offer visitors a great dining experience, but that’s a challenge when you’re completely understaffed.”
The HospoStart program was created in 2015 under the name ProStart. Since then, the program has evolved and in 2018 was renamed HospoStart.
The program has so far run in Waikato, Canterbury, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Wellington and Nelson/Tasman, with this year expanding to Tauranga for entry-level workers in the Bay of Plenty.
“Currently we have 11 trainees participating in the program, but in the regional program 135 students have completed their training since July 2021.”
The program is co-funded by The Hospitality Training Trust and the Ministry of Social Development and includes a three-month internship and mentorship, as well as a two-week training program.
Bidois said the program made it easier for trainees to enter the industry.
“Knowing they have the mentoring support of a team during the first few months of their job search is an essential ingredient to success.”
The young HospoStart candidate was working with several establishments with excellent results.
“In addition to finding new hires for the industry and making sure they’re ready for work, we know it’s important to give people the opportunity to have meaningful careers in our industry.”
Inspiring the next generation
Justin Bruning said he studied professional cooking at Toi Ohomain in 2000.
Now, as owner of the Marigold Café in Te Puke, she is helping to inspire the next generation of hospitality students by taking on an apprentice for 20 hours a week.
Bruning said she enjoyed helping students show students what the industry was like outside of polytechnic and giving them a “taste” of the real coffee shop experience.
In high school, Bruning said he had other plans to join the military, but “never got around to it” and decided to dive headfirst into the hospitality industry.
About seven years ago, he said he had had enough and changed a little.
“I worked for a year in a wood yard, but I couldn’t manage it.”
So, he returned to hospitality.
“I really love it.”
Bruning said finding staff was “extremely hard.”
That he has been the owner of the cafe for more than four years, and that he has never been able to open it six days instead of seven days a week due to the lack of staff.
“I’ve always been a member so I can do it.”
Nick Potts, co-owner of Mount Maunganui’s Solera Wine Bar and Saltwater Restaurant and Tauranga’s Deckchair Café, was helping to celebrate and encourage students in hospitality.
Solera was collaborating with Toi Ohomai | to provide culinary arts students from the Te Pūkenga region with an authentic training experience. On March 28, Solera’s chefs will mentor students as they prepare 10 creative dishes in three different courses, using a variety of locally produced ingredients.
The students will prepare the dishes and the Solera chefs will help “take it to the next level”.
The Our Future Creative Gifts event will be part of the Flavors of Plenty festival, an initiative of the not-for-profit Flavors of Plenty and Tourism Bay of Plenty.
Potts said they wanted to be a part of the festival to expose students to different styles of cooking and hopefully inspire something in them.
“It’s about celebrating young chefs coming up [and allowing them] to see what the industry can do.”
Meanwhile, a commercial coffee shop in Rotorua that offers real-life training opportunities for the next generation of hospitality workers has seen staff and staff moving into senior roles in the industry since opening in August 2022.
Junction on Fenton – located within the iSite building on Fenton Street – was a project led by Toi Ohomai and Te Pūkenga, supported by Rotorua Lakes Council, which aimed to help recruit and retain more people in the hospitality industry.
Toi Ohomai | Te Pūkenga dean of the faculty of business, design and service industries, Bart Voss, said the cafe had received “overwhelming support” from the Rotorua community and returning visitors to the city since it opened.
The cafe had seven permanent employees and two part-time employees, which Voss said was a 20 percent increase since opening.
“This is a direct result of the support we received from the citizens.
“We are proud that two of our original employees have moved on to senior roles in hospitality in Rotorua.”
Vosse said 15 students who completed work experience and/or work placement modules at Junction on Fenton were working in Rotorua, which was “fantastic” for the industry.
“We have had excellent feedback and support from colleagues in the hospitality industry. We have collaborated and organized events, and we have also used the hall to show students’ pop-up events.”
The success of Junction strengthened Toi Ohomai’s commitment to hospitality training.
“The venue has proven to be a great meeting place to discuss industry opportunities as well as expose students to the excitement of a commercial environment.
“Having an educational philosophy behind this initiative ensures that attention and time is given to students completing their work experience, and this includes additional pastoral care from campus tutors and support staff.”
However, Vosse said the journey was not a simple one as he faced challenges facing the industry, including recruitment, rising cost of goods and minimum wage hikes.
“That’s why we’re here, though, to stand together with our industry partners and explore how we can make this an exciting, long-term career opportunity for our local talent.”