AGAINST A background of job shortages and rising university fees, the foodservice sector is an increasingly attractive option for young talent from the UK, writes Nick Hughes.
Convincing young, homegrown talent to consider a career in the foodservice sector has historically been an uphill struggle for employers.
Perceptions of long, unsociable hours, poor pay and a propensity to hire international staff at the expense of UK nationals have been hard to shift. Indeed, the closest many UK youngsters get to a career in foodservice is washing pots for pocket money during the school holidays.
But recently the wind has changed in the UK jobs market and is blowing favourably for the foodservice sector. For a start, the contraction in job vacancies particularly for 18 to 25-year-olds has meant young people have had to keep a more open mind when considering career options. And the fact that qualifications are not a prerequisite for a career in hospitality is proving attractive to the increasing number of candidates who don't want to accumulate the debt that a university degree entails.
Recent research from the charity Springboard showed that more than 50% of school leavers would seriously consider a career in the industry. Whats more, the British Hospitality Association (BHA) claims that hospitality is in a position to generate 236,000 new jobs by 2015. How many other sectors can say that?
But are employers in the foodservice sector taking advantage of the favourable climate and attempting to attract and nurture the business leaders of tomorrow?
The latest signs are promising. In July, more than 140 young people and industry leaders came together in London at the first of a series of forums, branded as Big Conversations in Hospitality. The aim was to encourage more hospitality companies to introduce structured work placements and apprenticeships for unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds and the upshot was pledges by businesses to create thousands of work placements, apprenticeships and job opportunities during the next three years.
Whitbread, for example, has pledged to fill half of all new jobs from the ranks of the unemployed and recruit 500 apprentices this year. The industry has many job vacancies for youngsters and the unemployed and has huge opportunities at apprenticeship and other levels. If only more young people realised this, says Patrick Dempsey, the managing director of Whitbreads hotels and restaurants division.
The plan is for the first Big Conversation to be the start of a concerted effort to convince young jobseekers of the benefits of a career in hospitality. There are 200,000 businesses in the industry. If every business pledged to offer one work placement and employ one more local person we would easily meet our growth target, says the BHA chief executive, Ufi Ibrahim.
The BHA has pledged to work with Springboard and Business in the Community (BITC) to hold more Big Conversations, both regionally and sectorally, in an effort to reach out to young people throughout the UK. Hospitality is one of the very few industries in the UK creating jobs, apprenticeships, work placements and career opportunities, says Ibrahim. It is one of the very few industries where you can start at the bottom and excel right up to the top.
Thomas Dubaere is living proof of Ibrahims claim. Dubaere began his career as a maître d at the Novotel Bruges Centre and progressed through the ranks at Accor to the position of managing director of the UK & Ireland business.
In June, Accor announced a new £5m people and development strategy that has talent identification and improvement at its core. Now, more than ever, finding and developing talent is vital to achieving our ambitious growth strategy, says Dubaere. This is why we are making this significant investment.
The companys commitments include a partnership with the education service provider Babcock to develop its management apprenticeship scheme, which will employ 100 young people this year, giving them on- the-job training and a national qualification.
Accor is also formalising its student placement internship scheme that will offer 100 placements each year to students on UK hospitality courses with a view to recruiting promising candidates after they complete their studies.
Perhaps most significantly of all in the current economic climate, Accor has launched a work programme named Hospitality Futures. Run in partnership with Springboard, it will offer 25 unemployed people aged 18 to 24 a starting job in the hospitality industry.
Whats notable about Accors people strategy is its inclusivity. The aim is to attract potential talent from as wide a pool as possible from teenagers struggling to find employment to graduates from the UKs best hospitality courses.
There are opportunities whatever peoples backgrounds, says Phillip Addison, the human resources director of Accor UK & Ireland. What were trying to develop is entry points and opportunities for development at different stages in their career.
The management apprenticeship scheme began in 2004 and Addison says over 50% of the roughly 250 students that have passed through still work for the company, with many occupying key roles.
If retaining apprentices is a challenge, attracting young talent in the first place is arguably even tougher. Theres no hiding the fact that the hospitality sector suffers a bad press for hiring international employees rather than home-grown talent, which has, in many cases, created a high staff turnover as employees hop from country to country without putting down roots.
Nevertheless, the opportunity to attract talented people who have not previously considered a career in foodservice has rarely been greater. Graduate jobs are at a premium, while the reputational damage done to the banking sector which has traditionally skimmed off much of the cream of the graduate crop by the financial crisis has caused graduates to think twice about a career in financial services.
This summer, Springboard has been trying to tap into the market for students with transferable skills. Dee Smith, the programmes director for Springboard UK, speaks proudly of a molecular science student who was persuaded to sign up to one of Springboards summer schools and is now a chef at a Thistle hotel.
A lot of what weve been doing is going out to universities and attracting people who may have done a geography course or may have done a business course who are so important to the industry, says Smith. They definitely hadnt thought about a career in hospitality until we started talking to them about it.
Graduates are just one piece of the jigsaw and getting children enthusiastic about the prospect of a career in hospitality is another key plank of Springboards work. Its FutureChef programme, which aims to find the next generation of chefs, starts from the age of 12 and runs until 16. If a student comes through the programme and hasnt secured employment they will go into Springboards summer schools programme, Inside Track.
Smith says school-age children present a huge opportunity for Springboard because the vast majority have yet to seriously consider their career options. For us thats an amazing opportunity because if were rolling out programmes such as FutureChef in schools we can try and get those people that havent thought about a career and get them into hospitality.
Once talent has been secured, the emphasis moves on to development. Among Accors recent investments is the opening of a campus in London for its Académie Accor a first- of-its-kind UK professional training centre dedicated to staff development and career progression.
The benefits of holding on to talented individuals go beyond mere social sustainability. Employee retention and development can be key to achieving environmental goals. Businesses that are considered pioneers in sustainable development such as Unilever and Marks & Spencer have sustainability underpinning every function of the business. It stands to reason that employees who progress through the ranks of those companies also have sustainability in their DNA.
Addison believes promoting from within can play an important role in Accor achieving its sustainability goals. Once people are in the business they understand the culture,
In the wake of London 2012 much political talk has focused on the need for more competitive sport in British Schools, the rationale being that competition brings out the best in young people. But why stop at sport?
Springboard UKs FutureChef competition, which helps young people aged 12 to 16 to learn to cook, was created 13 years ago after the industry raised concerns that there was a lack of interest in entering a career as a chef. From an initial entry of 130 students, the competition now attracts over 7,000 students from more than 600 schools throughout the UK. Students work through four stages in the competition towards the goal of securing employment in the catering sector.
Like FutureChef, the aim of Nestlés Toque DOr competition is to spawn the next generation of cheffing superstars. Anton Mosimann won the first ever Toque d'Or before going on to be appointed head chef at The Dorchester. Jamie Oliver competed as part of the Westminster team, while James Martin entered the competition when he was at college in Scarborough.
Stephen Alexander, who represented Blackpool & the Fylde College in this years Toque DOr, said he was proud to have been part of the grand finals. It really is one of the most prestigious competitions out there, and inspires other students in the college, not just the team competing. It is also a great springboard for students to make it in the industry. For example, one of our former students who did well at Toque went on to work for Gordon Ramsey and is now head chef at one of Sydneys leading hotels.
Thomas Dubaere is living proof that ladders are there to be climbed. Twenty-two years after joining Accor as a maître d in Bruges, Dubaere is sitting atop the companys hierarchy as managing director of Accor UK & Ireland.
Having graduated from the Brussels Hotel School, Dubaere worked at the Novotel Bruges Centre then held several general manager positions before being appointed director of operations for economy brands in Belgium and Luxembourg in 2005.
Dubaere then switched to the UK & Ireland business where he worked as managing director for budget brands. During this time he played a key role in the expansion of Accors budget brands network and helped develop the Ibis megabrand which launched in 2012.
In February 2012, Dubaere was appointed managing director for the UK & Ireland business. He is now responsible for managing the overall development and strategy of the Accor brand in the UK & Ireland.
Reflecting on his rise, Dubaere says: Hospitality is one of the most giving industries, offering a wealth of opportunity and experiences. Accor has given me the autonomy to explore and develop my own ideas and to create a team and business that thrives on passion and imagination.
Angela knows as well as anyone the life-changing potential of apprenticeship schemes. She was working as a volunteer for a housing association while serving the end of a prison sentence when she was put forward by the Working Chance charity for Pret A Mangers Simon Hargraves Apprenticeship Scheme named after a former Pret employee who passed away. The scheme offers up to 70 places a year to ex-offenders and homeless people who benefit from a three-month work placement with Pret.
Angela admits to being sceptical of taking part in the scheme at first and says she had no idea of what to expect. She was placed in Prets customer services department for three months, where she helped to deal with customer queries. It really boosted my confidence and helped me integrate with people", she says. "It gave me the experience I needed in an office role to get a better job".
Angela says her opinion of Pret, which gives full pay and benefits to its apprentices, has changed since she began working for the company. I just thought it was like any other food brand but Pret has a great ethos. I have never seen a company that is so homely, inviting and fantastic.
Angela now has a full-time administrative job with Pret and plans to help more homeless people and ex-offenders get into work in the future and benefit from the same opportunities as her.
Angelas name has been changed