How to source talent from an empty pool

Toni Gore
About the author : Toni Gore

Human Resources Director, Australia

Published on : 10/3/23
  • It’s fair to say that for those of us in recruitment and talent acquisition work has become increasingly more challenging in recent years.

    Despite Australia’s record low unemployment rates, we’re finding ourselves in a critical skills shortage in key industry areas.  

    This shortage, coupled with the challenges of inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, has reached a tipping point where industry needs to intervene to energise the talent pool. With a finite number of existing people trained for the roles in shortage, we as an industry need to switch up our strategy to attract and retain talent.  

    And no, it is now not enough to promote a role with a competitive salary.  

    To get the right people, you have to look at how your organisation is run and build from this baseline. To do this, you need to be proactive, critical, and look inward for opportunities to generate a skilled workforce with the resources already available.  

    This is something Sodexo did quite successfully and quickly in response to the pandemic that disrupted our recruitment of trained chefs. 

    On average, we have more than 500 chefs employed to meet the needs of our clients and sites. At the peak of the pandemic, we had an estimated 200 vacant roles due to border closures, restricted interstate travel, and a limited talent pool.  

    Faced with the sudden lack of available talent, it would have been one thing to grit our teeth and ride it out with the rest of the nation. But instead of sitting on our hands, we got creative, and rolled out one of the fastest responses to the skills shortages in the industry.  

    The resulting solutions, which not only drew upon our internal resources but looked to the connections we have as an international organisation, put Sodexo ahead of our competitors with programs that were ready from the word ‘go’ when the border restrictions eased.  

    Our proactive development and forward planning ensured we were protected against the challenges facing our industry.      

    We have been able to boost our skilled workforce while decreasing the rate of chef turnover—a significant win in our books. 

    We can break down how we responded to the chef shortage and how we resourced our hospitality service into two streams: developing training pathways for emerging talent and broadening existing talent pools. 

    Unpacking these responses, there are learnings that can assist the broader industry in responding to a highly competitive talent market.


    Developing pathways for emerging talent 

    To set the scene, on a national level, only a limited number of chefs are certified annually. In a competitive jobs market, this pool of potential talent is quickly drained.  

    In the race to prepare and implement strategies to attract and retain talent, we had to ask ourselves the difficult questions— 

    • Why are we struggling to retain talent? 
    • What does the role of a trained chef look like at Sodexo? 
    • How can we implement better support systems? 


    By being critical of our own structures, we are able to identify areas to improve and innovate.  

    Recognising the finite pool of available talent and the need to structure roles that speak to the individual, we looked at investing in our own emerging talent. The results? Our ‘Art of Food’ (AoF) program.  

    Partnering with North Metropolitan TAFE to develop a pathway for engaged employees who had a passion for training in food, Sodexo developed an industry-first hybrid commercial cookery apprenticeship program.  

    Not only addressing critical skills and experience shortages, the AoF gave participants real, on-site experience while completing a nationally recognised Certificate III in Commercial Cookery—all on a fast-tracked course to recognise prior and current skills for an earlier competency-based completion. 

    Structuring AoF with the majority of the theoretical components at the beginning of the program, participants had more time ‘over the stove’ in Sodexo kitchens. This approach allowed them to get practical experience and enhance their skills efficiently. 

    The investment within our workforce meant we were able to proactively move employees into roles with critical shortages while making places available in entry-level positions within our business.


    Broadening existing talent pools 

    Working hand-in-hand with the investment in internal talent is the broadening of recruitment pools through existing networks.  

    The ABS’s Skills Priority List identified that the most significant obstacle to recruitment is due to lack of experience in the occupation, with 65% of applicants deemed ‘unsuitable’ despite holding certifications in the relevant field.   

    Unlike Australia, where skilled vacancies arose in the kitchen, other countries stood down chefs or had a surplus.  

    Knowing that travel would not be restricted forever, we leveraged our international footprint to tap into the surplus of passionate global Sodexo culinary professionals.  

    Forward planning for the lifting of restrictions, we engaged Sodexo chefs from countries where they were stood down, like India and the Philippines, and began the work to sponsor their relocation to Australia. 

    To date, almost 100 chefs have participated in the program since the borders opened—creating opportunities and employment for experienced and passionate individuals.  

    The result of the International Chef Program and the AoF Program has not only fortified Sodexo from the talent shortage but has reduced turnover in this profession internally by 30%.  

    Using these activities as a ‘blueprint’ where we broke down the challenges we faced, identified required structures, and developed programs to generate the best solution available to us at the time, a precedent has been set for skills attraction and retention beyond our hospitality service. 

    We know that the recruitment market has a cyclical nature, experiencing peaks and troughs in available talent. While I don’t have a crystal ball, the trends emerging in Australia around inflation and skills shortages suggest it will only get worse before it gets better.   

    As employers, it is critical that we build robust channels and systems for talent acquisition to futureproof operations and provide our people with stability—and it starts with internal investment and engaging existing networks.  

    I am proud to share that our International Chef Program and AoF have recently been recognised as industry best-practice in the Australian Resources & Energy Employer Association 2023 Industry Awards, taking out the ‘Workforce & Workplace Relations Innovation’ category.  

    This is an honour given to us by an industry body we have shared a relationship with for 30 years—built on our shared dedication to building an Energy and Resources industry that is safe, respectful, and inclusive.  

    Meet Chloe and Luke, our Apprentice Chefs





    To find out more about the development and implementation of the AoF and International Chef program, read our case study here

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