Know your qualifications

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Today almost a million people are estimated to work in the licensed trade, the UK's largest employer. There is however a huge skills shortage and...

Today almost a million people are estimated to work in the licensed trade, the UK's largest employer. There is however a huge skills shortage and high-calibre recruits are in demand. Get ahead by knowing the qualifications available.

The licensed trade has always been one of the UK's biggest employers, and today more than 900,000 people are estimated to work in the sector.

Coming up with an exact figure is difficult, mainly for the same reasons that the pub trade has always suffered from a relatively poor image as a choice of occupation - pubs tend to have a high proportion of part-timers as well as high staff turnover.

At licensee level, the traditional paths of entry into the trade also worked against developing its professional image. In the past, tenanted pub estates often targeted people leaving the police and armed forces, or made redundant, and it would be fair to say that in many cases the size of the lump sum available to invest was seen as most important qualification.

The dynamics of the industry have changed dramatically. The branded pub operators need a steady supply of professional, able managers, while the new breed of tenanted companies are estates are looking for entrepreneurs with the drive and vision to develop successful hospitality business. All these pubs need reliable, well-trained staff as well as professional licensees.

The first hurdle has been persuading people that the pub industry offers an interesting and rewarding career. As a result, a structure of qualifications at the point of entry is now well established. It includes:

BII Qualifications

These qualifications have been developed specifically for the pub trade by the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII).

  • The most basic qualification is the National Licensee's Certificate (NLC), usually a one-day course, and seen as essential by many licensing justices.

The Scottish Licensee's Certificate is adapted to Scotland's licensing laws

More in depth are the Certificate of Induction (three days) and the Qualifying Examination (five days) both of which include the NLC

The BII provides qualifications for the pub industry as a whole, ensuring that tenants, lessees and freetraders have access to the same levels of skills as those working for companies with their own in-house training departments. BII qualifications are available to anyone, although BII members can sit them at subsidised rates.


National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are nationally recognised, and aimed at providing a structure of practical training and qualifications. The Hospitality Training Foundation (HTF) is the National Training Organisation for the industry and has overall responsibility for relevant NVQs. The courses are a mixture of in-house and classroom training, and are widely available through colleges and training companies.

There have been some criticisms that NVQs can be quite bureaucratic to administer, particularly for smaller operators, and also that the need to provide a broad base has geared them more towards hotels than the pub trade.

Nevertheless, many of the big pub operators use NVQs as part of their staff training programme, and they also form the basis of the Pub Apprentice course, a Modern Apprenticeship designed for 16-24 year olds. The course lasts an average of three years and is aimed at school leavers who have not gone into further education and those who have completed hospitality or catering courses and want to develop those skills into a career in the pub industry.

Food Hygiene

The Basic Food Hygiene Certificate, awarded on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) is widely regarded as the minimum qualification for anyone involved in preparing and serving food. It is available through colleges, local authorities and other training organisations, and aims to ensure that anyone working in a business handling food meets the training requirements of the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995, as well as being able to understand the practical procedures and methods of applying food hygiene in the workplace.

Building on success

With the range of industry-wide qualifications available, as well as internal training programmes run by major operators, John Walker, deputy director of the BII, believes entrants to the industry are now reasonably well served. "Up until now, the qualifications offered have been geared at an induction level, providing the basic skills to get you started."

The challenge has been to build on that and establish a genuine career path through the industry for both licensees and their staff. With this in mind, three years ago the BII launched its Advanced Qualifications (AQ). The choice of AQs has now expanded to nine, covering a variety of aspects of pub business and the BII has issued about 7,500 certificates.

The newest AQ, Practical Trainer, offers licensees a structured approach to training their own staff and recognises that independent publicans have little time to spend on such apparent luxuries. It concentrates on coaching methods that can be employed in the pub itself in short sessions. The BII has also updated and relaunched its two 'people AQs', in Leadership and Motivation and Customer Service Management.

To help overcome publicans understandable reluctance about the cost of training - in terms of both cash and time out of the pub - AQs have sought to overcome such resistance by proving that they can increase profits almost instantly.

Walker said: "These qualifications are not just bits of paper, they are focussed on commercial outcomes and therefore are valuable to the individual and valuable to the business. The acid test for an AQ is whether the licensees can go back to their pubs, put what they have learned into practice and see that it makes a difference. We evaluate them, and they work."

Advanced Qualifications are available in:

  • Business Development

Leadership and Motivation

Financial Management

Catering Management

Customer Service Management

Cellar and Beer Quality Management

Wine Retail

Spirit Retail

Practical Trainer

"What we have established with advanced qualifications is a genuine career path through the industry," said Walker. He believes that licensees can gauge the practical benefits for their business very simply, for example by looking at the increase in wines sales bought about by implementing the knowledge acquired in the Wine Retail qualification.

Adding even more structure to the BII's programme of qualifications is the new BII Advanced Diploma in Licensed Retailing, the highest qualification the BII has to offer. To qualify, candidates must already hold five AQs. The Business Development and Financial Management are essential, and licenses can then 'mix and match' the qualifications most appropriate to their business by gaining one 'people' AQ and two others.

They then attend a half-day workshop from which they produce a portfolio to demonstrate what they have achieved as a direct result of their training. "We believe that it is vital that training is structured and organised, that you know what it is you want to achieve, and properly evaluate it afterwards. It takes them three months to put it all together, but the important thing is that it makes them look again at their business," said Walker.

The BII is also expanding the range of skills available to pub employees with the launch of its Professional Bar Person Qualification. While not aimed solely at licensees, it is an advanced qualification designed to recognise sand improve the professional standing of people behind the bar. "Both licensees and their staff are able to see the practical

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