Hospitality used to be an aspirational business – a respected and credible career. Today it is too often seen as second class, low skilled and for those with low aspiration. Ironically it has never been more prolific, diverse and exciting.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to join UKHospitality, along with more than 150 other operators, to attend Parliament and meet with MPs, to speak about getting a fairer deal for our industry.
We were organised, briefed, pumped up, ready to fight our corner and on message. Our concerns were voiced, but I have to say, while we had a lot of warm words, the area where I felt politicians fell down most badly was their grasp of the manpower issues we face in attracting young people to our sector.
One MP said there had once been a similar issue for universities in attracting veterinary students. He said a ’90s BBC series about young vets fixed that problem and we should consider the same remedy.
I asked the MP if he felt we needed more TV programmes containing chefs. He was enthusiastic.
The room fell about laughing – clearly the man did not own a TV.
Fortunately we attract a lot of university leavers, who come to work for us while deciding ‘what they really want to do’. Thankfully they discover that in hospitality you can quickly progress into management.
There have been 8% real terms cuts in further education in the past nine years and this has meant a huge decline in skilled students from with the UK. We have to plug that gap with our own development and apprenticeship programmes. That’s what we do as an industry – we make do and mend where the system fails us.
Young people will come to us if we can provide the right pathways, get involved with schools early enough and get more positive role models to support our message. But politicians constantly referring to our sector as low skilled, plus the usual doom and gloom around pub and restaurant closures, are not helping attract people or investment.
Maybe all is not lost.
Recently we advertised four level-4 brewpub brewer apprenticeship positions, and we received over 200 applications.
We need to be more confident about our business. We are amazing, fun, diverse and packed full of opportunity, and we mustn’t let anyone run us down, especially politicians, who aren’t showing much skill in their craft of late.