With a labour force shortage forecast for the hospitality sector by 2025, Toi Ohomai is focused on addressing the issue today.
New Zealand Certificate in Food and Beverage Level 4 students, designed, executed and served a three-course meal to mayor Steve Chadwick and Rotorua district councillors at the Mokoia Campus restaurant last night.
Toi Ohomai head of department tourism and hospitality, Bart Vosse said a 40 per cent labour shortage in the industry had been identified for 2025.
"Tonight shows our councillors that we have started working towards addressing that need."
Mr Vosse said Toi Ohomai was focused on getting back to "grass roots" and identifying how they could deliver, in partnership with industry, what was needed. His department's new focus on reconnecting young Kiwis with hospitality training had already led to 130 regional high-school students from Year 11 upwards taking advantage of the flexible study options offered.
"It is not fair on hospitality employees, many of whom are earning minimum wage, for us to say 'stop earning, come and study, and hopefully you'll get the same job that we just ripped you out of when you are finished'.
"I'd rather work with industry to educate their staff while they are earning."
Mrs Chadwick was pleased with the showcase of student skill and confidence.
"Tonight is a lovely sign of strength in the faculty and enables us as councillors to talk about what we have seen with a bit more knowledge.
"The students are confident given that they only started late February, and the ability to learn how to navigate those 'real-world' issues while executing what is quite a complex menu, is a real benefit of practical learning such as this."
Mrs Chadwick encouraged the community, as well as local industry and restaurateurs, to get involved in Toi Ohomai's efforts to make the qualifications fit for market and convey their expectations.
"This is when we will start to explore conversations such as what could be our culinary point of difference? How can we take a leaf out of Te Puia's book and deliver a market product that is unique to Rotorua or deliver a tailored cultural visitor experience that helps us to tell our stories?"
"You could also keep a strand of community connectedness going, so that we ensure that the food grown in our network of community gardens is being cooked and that we have a learning facility which also teaches the value of food."
Toi Ohomai student, Raj Naruka said the night made him even more determined to chase his dreams.
"Tonight was really good. The mayor was really nice and talked to me, so I didn't feel nervous about serving her after that.
"I always wanted to learn about hospitality and that's why I came to New Zealand. Rotorua is at the heart of a really great tourism industry and I knew I'd get the best experience to take back to India, so I can build my own hotel one day."