Perfect fit: Innovation in recruitment

By Jo Faragher

- Last updated on GMT

Innovation in recruitment: Change up your hiring process to get the best results
Innovation in recruitment: Change up your hiring process to get the best results
It’s tough out there for those recruiting. Leading employers explain how they have brought a smarter approach to their hiring processes to find the ideal employee.

Stonegate HR director Tim Painter reveals: “We’re always asking – does our attraction strategy need to be different? What makes us
different and special?”

His words encapsulate the sheer frustration shared by many recruitment professionals in the industry, faced with the ongoing challenge of showing that pub work can be more than a stop-gap job and the added hiring difficulties created by Brexit. 

With this in mind, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) recently submitted a num-
ber of proposals to the UK Hospitality Com-mission 2030 on ways the Government could improve recruitment in the sector and bolster its reputation among job seekers. It called for more co-ordinated and comprehensive recruitment campaigns, and a central information source where interested candidates can see the qualifications they’ll need, and how they can progress their careers in the industry. 

Overcoming chef shortfalls

It also called for pub chef roles to be acknowledged as a shortage occupation – it has been predicted the hospitality sector will need 11,000 new chefs by 2022 – when the Government is considering migration caps. According to the BBPA, 17% of employees are from abroad, and 14% of that group is from the EU. In metropolitan areas such as London or in certain roles, this can rise to as much as 80%. 

One way to mitigate the cost of constantly going out to source hard-to-find staff is to ensure you’re bringing in employees who are a good fit in the first place. 

Stonegate Pub Company has introduced an online behavioural strengths quiz for candidates, who are directed to a series of questions to see how good a fit they are for the brand. 

Questions differ depending on the role and which sub-brand of Stonegate they’re applying for, so a Slug & Lettuce chef will respond to different questions to a Walkabout bar worker. Painter explains: “We believe you don’t have to know how to make a good cocktail; if you have the right behaviours and characteristics, we can train you in the practical side.” 

What are pub operators doing to promote the reputation of the industry?

Stonegate Pub Company 

HR director Tim Painter says: “As a sector, we offer fantastic on-the-job training, we have general managers in their 20s who are running multimillion-pound businesses and managing 40-plus people. There are few sectors where you get so much responsibility and autonomy so early in your career. But there’s more we could do to showcase these success stories. The minute our employees engage with the career pathways, they feel they’re being developed, and they’re far more likely to stay.” 

Mitchells & Butlers

With more than 40,000 people in the business, one of the ways Mitchells & Butlers promotes the reputation of the industry is through social media. The company actively uses Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more recently Instagram and Snapchat  to support recruitment. According to Jan Smallbone, director of talent and development, they use “an editorial publishing ethos” to ensure the channels maintain interest, and content has included live events, videos and case studies featuring successful M&B employees. 

Brewhouse & Kitchen​ 

Hayley Connor, head of people and development, says:
“When we go out to colleges, there’s a perception that working in a bar or kitchen is hard work. But there’s a difference to what they’re doing day to day in college to what the job actually is. Some colleges offer placements that build people’s employment experience, and on top of that it’s about how we make the environment attractive.”

Greene King

Andrew Bush, group HR director for Greene King, says: “We are proud to operate one of the biggest and best hospitality apprenticeship programmes in the UK and recently celebrated supporting a record 10,000 team members though our award-winning apprenticeship programme. We work closely with the Prince’s Trust and aim to engage with people looking to take their first step in the hospitality industry. We also publicise our apprenticeship award wins to share the good news and let people know what we can offer.” 

Learning curve for managers

The strategy has been a learning curve for some general managers, however. He adds: “[Managers] always say ‘I want someone with experience’ but this is more about recruiting for attitude and then training for the skills.” 

There’s a similar approach at cocktail chain Be At One, where new recruits are tested on their resilience via an app during the recruitment process. 

“One of the hardest things to learn in our business is how to make all the cocktails, so we used gamified recruitment to ensure staff are resilient enough to cope,” says managing director Andrew Stones. “We also offer a paid trial shift so we can see whether everything we’ve tested through this and through interview is up to scratch. It’s quite rigorous and time-consuming but we want to ensure we get the right people.”

Once employees are settled in a role, showcasing where they can take their career and supporting this through learning and development are crucial if they’re to stay. At New World Trading Company (NWTC), which won best pub employer at the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Publican Awards, employees can follow career passions – for example wine training or food matching courses – or take the opportunity to train for another department. NWTC also offers financial support for employees who want to develop skills outside of their work life, such as learning a new language or taking music lessons. 

For Hayley Connor, head of people and learning at Brewhouse & Kitchen, providing career progression transparency is important. “People are looking for stability in their work environment, so all of our role profiles are available, including a training plan and what we expect,” she says. This information will soon be made available to people applying for jobs at the company as well as those who work there already.

With the high cost of recruitment, it’s not surprising the focus for many operators is on retention. “We try to grow our own superstars as it’s so difficult to go out to market,” says Jane Laycock, HR director at country inn chain Bel & the Dragon. 

Front of house staff take ‘tier tests’ at the end of their probation and later stages in their career to ensure they are performing to the company standards, and wages are increased accordingly. Bel & the Dragon also gives long-service awards from one year of tenure onwards – new equipment such as a knife for kitchen staff and a pair of Converse shoes for front of house – to show appreciation for the hard work involved. 

Perhaps the strongest example of pub employers ‘growing their own’ talent is the development of apprenticeships, particularly since the Government introduced the apprenticeship levy in 2017. Because companies are required to invest 0.5% of their payroll (if the wage bill is more than £3m), getting the most out of this funding pot is essential. 

Eighteen months ago, Brewhouse & Kitchen teamed up with a number of other pub operators and brewing companies to develop an apprenticeship in brewing – the framework for the qualification has now been approved and funding brackets are awaiting approval. 

“We worked with other employers because we felt an industry standard would be useful to everyone,” explains Connor. “When we went out looking for an apprenticeship, there wasn’t one that would train brewers in the way we needed them to be. We didn’t know at first if the skills would be a match for everyone, but once we’d done a scoping exercise, we realised we all wanted much the same thing.” 

Apprenticeships extend beyond bar and kitchen work, too, with many employers using them to develop future management talent. Mitchells & Butlers, for example, offers a three-year hospitality management development apprenticeship that fast-tracks apprentices into supervisory roles. 

Alongside its popular digital learning platform – Mable – this is beginning to have a positive impact on recruitment, according to director of talent and development Jan Smallbone. “The word is out and it’s starting to help; people are talking about it at interview,” she says. 

The company has also introduced careers workshops soon after employees join, exploring everything from team dynamics to simplified Jungian psychology. This investment in new recruits is clearly working: in a Mitchells & Butlers survey of those who had recently joined the company, their perception of working there compared to how they thought working in the pub industry would be has improved, and retention levels are high at 70%.

And despite scary stories around Brexit and recruitment, many European workers still want to work in the UK pub industry, and a number of employers are capitalising on this. At Bel & the Dragon, for example, Laycock has formed partnerships with a number of hotel schools and catering colleges in France, bringing students over for work experience and making successful candidates a permanent offer at the end of it. 

Be At One now recruits around 15% of its bartending staff through the European Bartender School, which has 15 branches across the Continent. The company pays the school a
referral fee once bartenders have stayed with the business more than six months. Keen to maintain this pipeline of talented bartenders, Stones would welcome greater clarity on what employers’ visa obligations are likely to be after the UK’s official exit in March 2019, but adds that “we’ll deal with whatever bureaucracy is put in front of us at the time”.

Finally, a number of pub employers are exploring more alternative means of attracting people to the industry, or investigating new sources of talent. The Alchemist recently launched a ‘Currency for Kindness’ scheme where workers can take time during work hours to volunteer in their community, which has helped to draw people to the company’s recruitment events as well as engage existing staff.

Meanwhile, Brewhouse & Kitchen is looking at introducing a new internship for ex-forces candidates, who will be rotated across different departments before potentially being offered a permanent role. The company is also working with a charity called Only A Pavement Away, which supports people to move out of homelessness and into work in the hospitality industry. 

With recruitment in pubs and bars facing challenges on so many fronts, rethinking who to attract, where to find them and how to get them on board can only be a positive development. 

Interested in working in the pub industry? Then take a look at MA’s jobs site​. 

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