B&K work offer to politicians over 'unskilled' jibe

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Be realistic: Brewhouse & Kitchen's Kris Gumbrell says university students are saddled with high debts and little genuine job prospects
Be realistic: Brewhouse & Kitchen's Kris Gumbrell says university students are saddled with high debts and little genuine job prospects
Brewhouse & Kitchen (B&K) chief executive Kris Gumbrell discussed hospitality's status as 'the accidental career' after former Apprentice contestant Frances Bishop told the BBC that working behind a bar taught her more than university.

Bishop, who has gone on to build designer childrenswear boutique Pud Store after dropping out of university and appearing on The Apprentice​, recently told the BBC that her stint working behind a bar left her better prepared for business than her time in higher education. 

Discussing the comments, B&K chief executive Kris Gumbrell, explained that careers in the hospitality sector are unfairly dismissed in favour of paths through higher education – which he believes regularly leave graduates “saddled with huge amounts of debt, broken aspirations and feeling like they've been under-served by the system”.

According to new data from digital current account Loot, students are spending 77% more money on counselling than social activities and are struggling with the pressures of financial stress and the post-university job hunt.

Loot chief executive and founder Ollie Purdue said: “There is enormous pressure on students graduate from university with a high-class degree, probably hinged on the fact that the degree itself costs so much with the average person now leaving university with £50,000 of debt."

Structural problems

Gumbrell explained: “The thing is that you've got a number of structural problems first of all. At a younger level, you've got parents who see hospitality as something that other people do – certainty not their own children.

“Hospitality is a career that tends to be frowned on a bit too much, which is unfair.

“You've got a school system that encourages as many kids as possible to go through to higher education because I believe that's how they're currently measured. They should be thinking about long-term outcomes for children in terms of their success in life, their earning potential and also doing the right things for them. There are a lot of kids who fall through the cracks.

“We're in danger now of having a culture that if you've not gone through higher education you're potentially a bit of a failure, which is absolutely not the case.”

Gumbrell added that a culture of universities getting “bums on seats” has led to prospective students being promised outcomes and career paths that are, in reality, unrealistic.  

“Universities are running the system more like a business than an educational function for our economy,” he said. “You've got young people coming out feeling pretty disappointed.”

Invitation to politicians

“Graduates are coming to us to get earnings, to get onto the job market, and start working,” Gumbrell added. “Then they realise that if they've joined the right type of organisation and that our industry is engaging, vibrant, diverse, and has lots of different opportunities – you can progress very quickly into management – and you can even become an entrepreneur quickly.

“It's a great sector and it's very undersold. We need politicians to stop talking about our sector as being low skilled or unskilled – it certainly isn't.

“The next politician who uses the term ‘low skilled or unskilled’ in the context of hospitality is going to get a personal invite from me to come and work in our business, brew a batch of beer, work in one of our kitchens and run a shift. And I'll pay them!”

Changing the conversation

Gumbrell argued that the conversations around the hospitality industry need to be handled with more care in order to make it more appealing to investors and potential staff.

“For all the right reasons, organisations are pointing at pub closures, but that doesn't help us recruit people to the sector.

“We've got to be careful of the language we use. If we talk about a business in crisis and sector where pubs are constantly closing, how the hell are we going to attract young people to come and work in our sector – or indeed attract investment? It's a delicate balance about how we talk about our sector.”

These are conversations that Gumbrell believes need to be had in schools in order to present hospitality as a viable alternative to higher education.

“I know of businesses that have attempted to get into schools’ career discussions and have been blocked.

“I was given an example of a town in the south coast where the biggest employer in that town was a holiday park – it employs all sorts of people in all sorts of professions – yet they were blocked from attending the careers fair at the school because the parents don't want their children working in a holiday camp.

“The hard reality of that is that a lot of the kids will end up working in there anyway.”

The ‘accidental career’

Gumbrell continued: “Young people do find us in the end – I call it the 'accidental career'.

“So many people I've talked to in our business have a degree – in photography, or an arts degree, or a business studies degree – and have really struggled to fulfil their ambitions or the dream that they were promised.

“Universities need to be measured on outcomes for these kids – not performance at the point of examination or passing their courses – but what their kids are doing five or six years on from finishing. Are they working in the sector they studied for? Are they earning a decent salary? Do they have a career path?

“We get hold of these people, reshape, rebuild them and try to give them meaningful careers – I see it working every day in my business. But the sadness is that they could have joined us at 18, avoided the university system, come straight to us on an apprenticeship, would have been earning a salary from day one and be much further advanced for their age.

“They seem to come out and have to start again. There are so many people coming out and feeling completely let down.”

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

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