A report by workforce development charity People 1st last year found that the hospitality and tourism industry required almost one million new staff by 2022 to keep up with projected growth.
The pub trade is a big part of this, with employment levels already back up to 2009 levels, and expected to grow. While the EU referendum vote may dampen economic growth, it could also make it harder to recruit some European workers, adding to the pressure on employers to attract school leavers and convert casual staff into full-time employees.
Fighting for top recruits
A shortage of skilled chefs in particular is a major concern as casual-dining establishments continue to expand rapidly and increase competition for staff. However, it doesn’t take long to discover that many other British industries share similar concerns and are desperate to recruit from the same pool of young people.
So how can pubs win the increasingly ferocious war for talent? The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) backs calls for a national campaign, which it says should “dispel myths commonly associated with the sector and highlight its many positives”.
Chief executive Kate Nicholls says pubs provide opportunities for people of all working ages to suit a range of ambitions. “We are sometimes seen as a sector that only provides short-term work for younger people, but there is a huge variety of positions for students, semi-retired people and everyone in between,” she says. “Our annual Operations Managers Awards are proof that this is a sector that nurtures talent and can provide challenging and rewarding work for talented individuals.”
The industry-led Perceptions Group has worked on a number of projects to promote the sector, including asking MPs to nominate local pub chefs for a national award. Steering panel member Maureen Heffernan says that too often the industry just speaks to itself and needs to widen its reach. “We need to get the message out to young people that there is rapid career progression and they can move swiftly into management roles as well as marketing, HR, recruitment, accounting or design in the pub and bar sector,” she says.
“We have one case study of a guy who develops music playlists for a pub group – that could be someone’s dream job and they may not know it exists.”
'Target young people on their own terms'
Award-winning Home Counties pubco Oakman Inns launched its recruitment website three years ago.
“My philosophy is that recruitment is marketing,” says head of HR Jill Scatchard. “I worked abroad for three years prior to this job and saw in Austria that the hospitality industry is seen as an important career option, unlike in the UK.”
She says the industry should target young people on their own terms. “Millennials want flexibility, they want to earn a good wage, they want to be sociable and to do work and training on their mobile devices, which they don’t want to be parted from. So target people through their devices and tell them about how our careers would suit their needs,” she says.
“It would be amazing to have short clips at the beginning of YouTube videos saying ‘look at us, we have all sorts of roles and we want your sociability, your flexibility and your passion’.”
Centre of operations
Another key message, according to Heffernan, is the vibrant working atmosphere that pubs offer. “People come to us to have a good time. Working in that environment gets you up in the morning.”
So to the crux of the campaign – what are the messages the industry wants to imprint on its target audience’s brains?
Katrina Fox, employer branding consultant at agency Peters Fox, says it is important to understand the different motivations of people who could be attracted to the sector. “You have two types of people,” she says. “Those who want careers and the more casual staff. They will have different reasons for working and it’s equally important to attract both, but you need different messages.
“For career staff it’s about long-term development; it’s about saying the opportunities are endless. With part-time staff it’s more about working in a fun team and making new friends.”
Mark McCulloch, founder and chief executive of marketing agency We Are Spectacular, which has worked with brands including Fuller’s and Tesco’s casual dining division, would angle the same message slightly differently, and frame the opportunity as anti-establishment.
“Right now it’s cool to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “A lever I would want to pull would be to say ‘you have a shot here’. This is your shot to manage your own time and this will fit around you. It is also good to have an enemy and that could be corporate culture – the suit, the tie and the desk. In food and drink you don’t have to be a desk jockey.”
A broad range of channels are suggested to get this message across to the people who matter.
Heffernan says licensees could start by making the most of their own venues. “We have 50,000 shop fronts and we make little use of that,” she says. “The advert on the back of the toilet door should showcase sides of your own business rather than advertising some other career.”
Fox calls for employers to use another of their innate assets – their sociability. “You could have pop-up events on high streets and at festivals where young people are out and about,” she says. “Set up bars where people can come and talk about opportunities with real people who work in real pubs.”
Fox says authentic voices are critical to sell the trade’s ‘employer brand’ and promote the opportunity. McCulloch takes this idea a step further by suggesting celebrity endorsement of the campaign.
“Jamie Oliver grew up in a pub,” he says. “Find stars whose first job was in a pub and mine that. We could have people showing it is not all about washing pots.”
People can succeed quickly
Pub chain Fuller’s initiated a major recruitment branding exercise in 2013.
“We asked our employees what made us a special place to work,” says people director David Hoyle. “They came back with five or six key points and we built a more prominent recruitment section of our website around those principles.
“Some of these are fantastic jobs and we need to get that message across. There are few industries where you could be running a multi million-pound business in your 20s. You can succeed rapidly. Also, we recruit on personality – if you have the attitude, we will give you the training you need.”
A key lesson for a national campaign would be giving a truthful picture of the industry to ensure candidates “get” the sector, says Hoyle.
As well as taking less time to fill vacancies since it started its project, the pubco has seen increases in its net promoter scores that it accredits to employing more people with the right traits.
Hitting the right targets
Social media would naturally play a part, but McCulloch warns the industry that this requires more sophisticated thinking than just plastering links on Twitter.
“If the target audience is Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995), then it’s about using Snapchat and interesting channels like lip syncing app Musical.ly. You could post songs about food,” he says.
“I would use Instagram pretty heavily because it’s very pictorial and the message would be that it’s sexy to work in service. I would go hard on Facebook advertising because you can target it so well.”
Once the message is hitting the right people on the right channels, the industry can sit back, pour itself a drink and wait for the job applicants to queue down the street. Or can it?
Unfortunately not, says Fox. “There is no point having an exciting campaign without an easy place to send people to,” she says. “You have to have a consistent experience for candidates.”
She suggests using the campaign to direct everyone who sees it to the same online landing page. Here they should be invited to register their details and search vacancies by region, hours, job type and so on. This would show the variety of roles available as well as building a database of candidates for the industry.
“Make sure the site is mobile-optimised and can be used on all devices. And simplify the application process. Could you just ask for a telephone number and ask managers to do the work rather than the candidate?
“Make sure someone contacts the registered candidates regularly. You don’t want to lose them, you want to build a pool of talent for when vacancies arise.”
McCulloch agrees. “There should be a portal or community where people can see what opportunities are there,” he says. “You can’t leave it to the local landlord who might tell people he’s not hiring and waste their enthusiasm.”
The pub trade has a good story to tell – it just needs to get more people listening to it.