Careers: Can't get the staff?

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Pub kitchens could be facing a staffing crisis as licensees increase their emphasis on food in the wake of the smoking ban.Recruitment agencies...

Pub kitchens could be facing a staffing crisis as licensees increase their emphasis on food in the wake of the smoking ban.

Recruitment agencies specialising in hospitality are finding demand for chefs and kitchen hands is on the rise in a sector of the labour market that is already one of the most under-supplied.

SVB, an agency that has usually confined itself to finding front-of-house staff, is increasingly recruiting for the kitchen in response to requests from its clients.

"Everybody is looking to replace the wet sales they expect to lose as a result of the smoking ban," explains SVB's Mark Tobin. "That means more food sales - and more kitchen staff."

Employers already struggle to hold on to their food people, he points out. "It's what we call the four-wall syndrome," he says. "Staff in kitchens don't have the spice in their working roles you get front-of-house. It's a less gregarious job. They work with the same six or 10 people all day long and are quicker to fatigue.

"The more switched-on operators are recognising this, though, and giving kitchen staff the opportunity to work front-of-house, too. It creates more flexibility and gives people extra skills, opening up more options for a career."

Low pay and long hours are other factors that employers need to address if they are going to continue to attract and retain people for the kitchen, according to Rosemary Whibley of Hamilton Recruitment Solutions. "You still find people working 12-hour shifts in pressured conditions for £13,000 a year," she says.

"The industry has to examine how it is going to pay more and give people better conditions, and that can be achieved by raising standards - customers these days are willing to pay more for good food and good service."

That, of course, raises the question of how pubs are going to produce food that can command a higher price if the people aren't there to make it.

Rosemary believes the answer lies to the East. Hamilton has for some years recruited chefs from Poland and the latest shortage crisis has now driven the company into Bulgaria and Romania.

"We can find the people - but it is down to employers to show commitment and work with us to make sure these chefs can hit the ground running when they reach the kitchen," she says.

"Language is less of a problem than it was, but recruits from Eastern Europe need to be prepared and trained to produce the kind of food expected in a British pub. We can do part of that over there but employers have to commit to a week or two-week induction, and they have to think about things such as accommodation.

"With buy-in from the industry, this can work."

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