Friday, February 10, 2012

Flight Catering Chefs: production workers, process managers, or development gurus?

Executive summary
This report investigates the job roles and competencies of inflight catering chefs. Research has shown that the collective job competencies of individuals within an organisation arsubstantial resources generating competitive advantage for the organisation. The purpose ofthis project is to investigate how job competency models, which enable the establishment of business strategy, can be used to enhance human performance and to unify individual competencies with organisational core competencies. In addition, job roles and competencies of inflight catering chefs are compared with other groups of chefs (i.e. production chefs and research chefs).
Research methods used included semi-structured interviews and a mail questionnaire survey.Data were collected cross-culturally from participants in the United Kingdom, United States and Japan. A total of 29 job competencies were validated in the United States, with 20 and 13 competencies identified in Japan and the United Kingdom respectively.
The results of the survey show that the participants in the three countries under investigation shared the following 11 competencies:

1. Skilled at time management;
2. Knowledge of culinary fundamentals and production systems, particularly
for producing in large volumes, including their limitations;
3. Skilled at food presentation;
4. Knowledge of culinary uses and applications of products/ingredients functionally;
5. Knowledge of kitchen functions and pressures;
6. Understanding of food testing;
7. Knowledge of quality assurance and food safety;
8. Ability to work in multi-task environments;
9. Ability to make decisions;
10. General communication skills; and
11. Ability to distinguish levels of quality in food products

                                                The Asian Meal Choice                                  
     The competencies validated by the United States and Japan tended to stress personal attribute competencies as well as technical proficiency competencies, emphasising that successful inflight catering chefs need to play a greater managerial role in addition to a culinary role. In contrast, technical proficiency competencies were the main focus in the United Kingdom.It can be concluded that being a successful inflight catering chef requires personal attribute competencies in addition to technical proficiency competencies.


When examining the inflight catering industry, it is clear that there are various emerging issues with regards to the future views of in-flight catering firms on the roles of chefs, which consequently affect the contribution of chefs to the business. This seems to result from the recent business shift towards logistics-dominated work and away from cooking-dominated activities. The level of actual food production (as opposed to logistics) has hugely declined to only 10% of total activity, from 90% in the early 1980s (Pilling, 2001b; Seeman, 2002).

However, the remaining 10% appears to be become increasingly important.It is a new type of chef that the industry requires, i.e. not those who simply cook, but chefs able to propose innovative ideas for operations. It can thus be argued that opportunities for business strategy exist in the chef-related areas. Therefore, research into the core competencies of chefs can be a useful tool in informing business strategy development. Such competency studies are very useful when applied to job positions that have a significant effect on the future growth and goals of the organisation (Spencer and Spencer, 1993).
The movement towards a logistics-driven business has required dichotomous work in the catering kitchens, i.e. de-skilled and en-skilled/re-skilled. Modern inflight kitchens largely depend on modern cooking technologies (e.g. cook-chill, sous-vide and cook-freeze) and greater use of buy-in ready-to-use products in seeking enhanced efficiency (McCool, 1995; Jones and Kipps, 1995; Kirk and Laffin, 1996; Pilling, 2002a). Such practices, which account for the 80% reduction in food production, are de-skilled practices (Vergé, 2000). However, there are operations that cannot be de-skilled and are thus still dependent on skilled chefs.

The food business, which includes developing new foods and following new food trends (Seeman, 2002), liaising and working with celebrity chefs, who are hired by airlines as food consultants (Sheridan, 1998; Cadwalladr, 2000; Guild, 2002; Huddart, 2002a), and ensuring food quality to meet diverse passenger demands (Spiselman, 1999; Pilling, 2001a), is moving towards en-skilling/re-skilling. In these activities, en-skilled/re-skilled chefs are indispensable. Understanding competencies

Firstly, it is important to distinguish between the notions of competence and competency, which are used interchangeably in daily life to express the same concept. Whilst the competence-based approach aims to identify what is needed to perform given tasks at expected levels, the competency-based approach is concerned with how well employees actually work (Rowe, 1995). Conceptualised by McClelland (1973), its aim is to identify specific knowledge, skills and behaviour that enable outstanding performance in a specific job. Spencer and Spencer (1993) divide competencies into two categories, namely: threshold and differentiating competencies. The former are minimum-level essentials (e.g. knowledge and skills), but do not lead to superior performance. The latter embraces motives, traits and selfconcepts that are supposedly the factors causing superior performance.

These drive the knowledge and skills to be used, and consequently generate the outcome (see figure 1: competency causal flow diagram).

Figure 1: Competency causal flow model (Source: Spencer and Spencer, 1993: 13)
‘Intent’ ‘Action’ ‘Outcome’
Motives Skills
Personal Behaviour Job Performance

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