Training: The knowledge gap

Related tags Licensees Skill Training

New research reveals even the trade's elite don't know enough about training.Training is not a luxury for today's licensee. The new licensing laws...

New research reveals even the trade's elite don't know enough about training.

Training is not a luxury for today's licensee. The new licensing laws will be a severe test for those who already have to grapple with a dense tangle of legislation and regulation as well as acquire the skills and knowledge that can help them prosper in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

So is the trade in good shape for the challenges ahead? Recent research among the 15,500 members of the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) suggests not.

The overall picture shows that while there is an awareness of the importance of training, both for the operator and their staff, and a willingness to train, even the cream of the profession that the BII represents do not know how to go about it.

The research was carried out by Caroline Wiscombe, a senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton - and licensee of the Pilot Boat Inn in Lyme Regis in Dorset.

With 20 years trade experience behind her, at one time running three pubs, she expressed shock at some of her findings.

"You would expect that BII members would be the ones who are training themselves and their people, so it was quite a shock to find out how little they are actually doing," she said. "There was a lack of basic knowledge of the bread-and-butter issues, such as health and safety, let alone the legislation and regulations that affect their businesses.

"But this was not because of a lack of willingness to learn and to train," she continued. "Licensees are saying that they don't know exactly what they need and they don't know about the funding they can get for training.

"There is also the point that they don't have the time. We have to acknowledge that licensees work all day, they are too busy serving customers, I can understand that. But we have to convince them that if they do take time out to train the operation of their pub will get easier."

The Wiscombe report, commissioned by the BII to inform its future strategies, recognises that the pub industry has invested thousands of pounds over the past few years setting up support packages for independent licensees. But pub companies have found that "despite this effort tenants and lessees traditionally do not partake of these opportunities, even when money is taken from them to pay for it".

It recommends that pubcos adopt "a less formal approach" to training licensees who, in turn, should "develop a more consultative and fostering attitude to staff" and looks to the BII itself to play an important role in cultural change.

It also puts forward a framework for in-pub training which can provide "the knowledge, funding and support mechanisms needed to achieve long-term change".

In order to be effective the framework will need the active support of industry bodies, including the BII, plus improved communications between licensees and those bodies providing support - and their own staff.

The BII, it suggests, could take a lead by drawing up standards and procedures and supply pubs with "basic skeletal documentation", such as templates for training plans and staff appraisals.

The report also recommends the use of new technology, including CD-ROM, video, television and distance learning as part of in-pub training.

More than that, though, the whole culture of pub employment has to change.

"There needs to be a partnership between licensees and their staff," Caroline explained. "Staff have got to be involved in their own training programmes. Licensees say their people don't want to train, but that's because they don't feel a part of it.

"Good communications are the key to all of this. But while publicans are good at talking to their customers, they don't know how to talk to their staff, to ask what they think, what kind of training they want.

"What is needed is a culture change, and licensees need support in order to carry that through," she continued. "The BII is in a good position to take up that challenge."

Caroline points out that some pub businesses have already tapped into consultancy services and have been able to take advantage of the funding for training that is out there. For example, £30m of government money is available to help small businesses go for Investor in People status.

"But licensees need to know that it is there, and they need to be helped to put together the kind of proposals that will attract that funding," she said.

Caroline (pictured)​ believes the whole industry needs to reassess its approach, right down to the very use of the word "training".

"We keep calling it 'training', but what is it really?" she says. "Coaching staff in the pub, for instance, does not always involve taking a course with a piece of paper at the end of it.

"There is a great fear of external courses among publicans. They don't like the formal environment, they don't like being in a classroom, they don't want to be shown up.

"When I teach the National Certificate for Licensees there is always somebody sitting at the back who says the only reason they are there is because they have been told to be there. You have got to prove to those people that what you are teaching them is going to be useful for their business."

Her report calls for a shift towards in-pub training that reflects the licensees' own wish-list that have emerged from the survey.

Those questioned consistently came up with similar requests such as "short, in-house courses", "DVD in-house delivery methods", "distance learning packages", "accessibility", "in-house assessment" and "work-based learning".

"While 'qualification' is welcomed, training that delivers knowledge, improves skills, changes behaviour and provides motivation is a much better and more achievable aim," the report concludes.

Such on-the-job training could be logged to make the culture change visible to staff - "trainees are motivated by linking learning to improved job performance which may in turn lead to improvements in their career, earnings and expectations".

Appraisals can help people reflect on what they have learned, apply it in their work and encourage them to train more. Licensees need to "encourage employees to use their new skills, and tolerate mistakes when they are practising them".

While her research focused on what might be regarded as the elite of the pub industry, Caroline is most concerned about the large number of publicans who find themselves cut off from sources of information.

"The BII is doing a remarkable job but you get the feeling that a lot of small local pubs haven't got a clue when it comes to legislative changes, for instance. Employment law highlights that. How many licensees know that their part-time barstaff now have the same rights as full-timers?"

It sounds like a tall order. But Caroline is optimistic that if the whole industry starts to work together in partnership it is attainable.

"There is no lack of willingness on the part of licensees to get involved in training," she said. "It comes down to a lack of knowledge."

Pub training framework

  • Step 1

The licensee buys into the training philosophy and meets staff to get them on board. A training plan, plus supporting paperwork, is created with professional help.

Step 2

Staff appraisals are undertaken. Information is given about the new training programme and the thinking behind it is explained. Incentives and targets are put in place and training budgets set.

Step 3

Training begins. The licensee and staff take part in a series of short in-house courses in both technical and non-technical subjects.

Step 4

Evaluation. More appraisals are held and the benefits

Related topics Training

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