Think Tank

Sep 15, 2019, 6:21
New Directions in Education for 2019

New Directions in Education for 2019

01 December 2018

Chef Paul Sorgule focuses on factors that should drive faculty and administrator discussions keeping in mind that resistance to change is a failure formula.

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

It seems hard to believe that we are at the end of another calendar year. In just a few short weeks we will welcome 2019 – a year of change, opportunity, and a year to think differently. 

The goal of this monthly column has always been to stimulate the process of thinking through challenges and opportunities and provide a forum for new ideas regarding educating tomorrow’s foodservice professionals. As we say goodbye to yet another year, we continue to look forward to a promising 2019.

The food industry is dramatically different than it was in 1980 when the growth of American culinary schools had its true beginning. As we learn to accept this current reality – different from the past – the important questions become: Has culinary education changed in response to this industry evolution? Have we (as educators) helped drive this change? Has the model of culinary education developed in the 1980’s evolved sufficiently to keep pace? Should we remain entrenched in the model that worked for us in the past, or should we open our eyes to new possibilities?

Change is difficult. Change is filled with risk. Change requires each of us to step outside our comfort zone. And, change is inevitable.

Look all around you and note those businesses and industries that suffer the consequences of change resistance. It would be nearly impossible to find an industry not faced with the need for dramatic change in a world where paradigm shifts happen with little warning.

The following is just a sampling of things to consider, and of factors that should drive our faculty and administrator discussions rather than simply the small challenges of today. Resistance to change is the formula for failure. 

The current educational model is not cost effective
Look at your program as a viable business model. It would be difficult to find another curriculum (aside from maybe the medical profession) that is more expensive to administer. Facilities and equipment are very costly and the design of student to faculty ratio is not inline with other curriculums. There is also the need for outlets to validate skill retention which usually are not profitable either. This makes culinary education questionable in the eyes of college administration. Argue as we may – this is the reality.

The payback for student investment is hard to justify
With current pay scales in food operations (especially restaurants) students are saddled with tuition debt that will take them decades to eradicate. This weighs heavily on students and their families.

A college degree may not be a future model
Certainly, we cannot argue that data shows those with a college degree have greater earning potential over a lifetime than those without. The food industry, especially during a time when demand for people exceeds supply, is less concerned about degrees and far more interested in skills, attitude and ability. Different teaching/training models may become more realistic keeping in mind these facts.

Too many culinary graduates are not kitchen ready
Try as we may, there is an increasing number of chefs, owners, and operators who are not satisfied with culinary graduates and their ability to hit the ground running. Expectations are not being met. This compounds the frustration all stakeholders share.

Too many culinary graduates are not career ready
With a sizeable debt in hand and immediate concerns over kitchen-ready skills, graduates often find that as they progress through different stages in their career, they are lacking the breadth of knowledge to meet the demands of increased and varied responsibility.

A career in the kitchen is losing its sizzle
The glory days for culinary education when young people were enamored with a career in food is losing its spark as the reality of the work, the limited earning potential, and the socially isolating demands of kitchen positions take center stage. The impact of this is apparent in decreasing enrollment numbers.

The “all in” approach is not as attractive to this generation
Chefs may rally around the cry that the current generation just doesn’t have the right work ethic for the business, but at the same time the need for qualified people still exists. We all share in this challenge and must unify in how we approach it.

The industry has an unrealistic demand on a person’s life. Educators continue to project the need for the student’s time commitment. There must be a compromise if enrollment numbers and industry retention are to improve.

A labor-intensive industry with low profit margins is no longer viable
One solution is to simply improve wages and benefits and to create a balanced work life for those who pursue a kitchen career. The current requirement for intensive hands on work and the razor thin profit margins in restaurants make this solution close to impossible. We might consider taking this on as a collaborative project with industry: let’s find a solution that helps restaurants address profitability.

It takes a community to train a cook
Culinary schools are not an island. The most effective programs are those that have very strong relationships with industry. The culinary education community should include industry experts in the classroom, building powerful internships and externships, engaging chefs and owners in the process of creating portals for graduate careers, and communicating and listening to all stakeholders in the process of building a better mousetrap.

It’s more than cooking
There is never enough time in a program to build competence in cooking. As we know, cooking requires a skill set that will continue to grow throughout a cook’s career. But cooking is never enough to build a successful, long-term career in food. Communication skills, understanding human resource management, leadership, cost controls, language and culture, and marketing are important career skills that will set the stage for decades of personal growth. An educational model that maintains the connection between graduate and school, and helps an alumnus build on his or her skills as the job changes is one that will be extremely attractive to students and employers alike.

Where is the guarantee?
The second most expensive purchase (investment) a person will ever make is a formal education. At the same time, this may be one of the only purchases in life that does not include a guarantee of any type. Think about how we might design and deliver an education that carries some level of guarantee. Otherwise, what is the real value of that diploma?

These concerns will inevitably ruffle some feathers and make people uncomfortable, resistant, and even angry – but this is where we live today. Will we resist the discussions that surround the need for change, or will we embrace the opportunity before us? Let’s take the opportunity to discuss and debate the need to move in new directions.

“One of the most common ways to overcome resistance to change is to educate people about it beforehand. Communication of ideas helps people see the need for and the logic of a change.”
-John P. Kotter

Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..