Board the money train: hiring pub apprentices

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Job satisfaction: gaining skills and knowledge as they go provides employees with greater confidence
Job satisfaction: gaining skills and knowledge as they go provides employees with greater confidence

Related tags: Apprenticeship

Many employers are unaware that paying the apprenticeship levy gives them the right to use those payments to take on apprentices and improve their business.

Recruiting and retaining pub staff is tougher than ever, as any publican can tell you. A career in a pub, wrongly, does not always have the best reputation – there is a long way to go before training as a chef or studying the art of brewing is considered equal to paths that lead to university.

However, apprenticeships in the sector are flourishing. A plethora of new courses means pub employees of all ages and backgrounds can learn the tricks of the trade while continuing to work.

The sector’s traditional dependency on employees from overseas is in the lurch, as fewer people appear eager to move to the UK for work, thanks to Brexit. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says a labour supply shock has been driven primarily by falling interest from migrants from outside the EU.

There have been suggestions of late that the Government will ditch Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed plan to have an immigration system that prioritises ‘highly-skilled’ workers – but the insecurity has been enough to make the UK seem like a risky place to move for many.

Shaky security of workforce

Migration concerns coupled with a looming ‘demographic deficit’ mean the security of the hospitality workforce seems shaky. A large proportion of  hospitality employees are young people (around 50%), and a demographic shift means there will be fewer 18 to 24-year-olds in the UK within a few years.

Trade bodies, including UKHospitality, fear there is too little enthusiasm for working in hospitality from UK workers to cope with these drops.

Springboard’s chief executive Anne Pierce is among those to have described the situation a ‘crisis’.

Pierce said earlier this year: “In an industry where skills shortages continue to be challenging and labour shortages are heading rapidly to crisis point, there is an acute need to take positive action to attract more people from the UK into the hospitality industry and fill the growing number of vacancies – particularly in the cities.” 

Apprenticeship case study

Helen Shaw, kitchen porter at the Pendle Witch in Lancaster – a Stonegate pub

What does your job involve?

My role is really interesting and diverse. As well as the day-to-day running of the kitchen, I am responsible for ensuring the high standards of food quality and customer service expected by the company are maintained. I also train new staff members.

What was your apprenticeship and what did you learn on the course?

I completed an apprenticeship as a Hospitality Supervisor (Food and Beverage Supervisor): Level 3. During the course, we covered many areas of the hospitality industry, such as health and safety, stock management, leadership styles, how to get the best out of the business, working as one team, understanding our customers’ needs and expectations, and how we can help the business grow. This course gave me a greater understanding of our business, how all the individual aspects work together as a whole, and how I could help maximise growth at the Pendle Witch.

How did you hear about the course?

I first heard about it from my manager and my area manager. They suggested it would be a fantastic opportunity for me to develop within the company and gain a greater understanding of the business.

Is the experience what you expected?

I entered into it with an open mind, not really knowing what to expect but, from the first day, I met some wonderful people who 
were dedicated and helpful from the start. They were willing to focus on the areas that I found more challenging until I was fully up to speed. The training sessions were educational and professional, yet relaxed and fun, and the course was well tailored to my needs, so I could easily fit it in and around my work.

What has been a highlight of the experience?

Besides gaining a greater understanding of my job role and the business as a whole, the highlight was getting to meet so many fantastic individuals who are passionate about our business, both those who guided me through the apprenticeship and the support I was given from staff within Stonegate. It was fun while also being an educational experience, and one I would definitely recommend.

Seasoned at delivering

One company that is now a seasoned professional at apprenticeship delivery is Stonegate. The pubco has been delivering training programmes for almost a decade and currently employs 138 apprentices.

Stonegate apprenticeship manager Jemelle Bish says the pubco has seen substantial benefits from its several training programmes.

“We have seen that by encouraging our learners to progress through each level of our apprenticeship pathways, there is a 70% reduction in our staff turnover,” she says.

“Employees also have greater job satisfaction; being skilled and knowledgeable means they are more confident and trusted by their line managers to get on with their jobs.”

In sites where there is at least one kitchen staffer enrolled on the company’s back-of-house training programme, Evolution, food margins are up by 3.8% compared with a 2% increase at sites with no staff enrolled.

Stressing the benefits

However, it is not just large businesses that can benefit – something the team at training provider HIT is keen to stress.

HIT Hospitality Academy principal Jeremy Scorer says there is still work to be done bringing all pub employers up to speed about how beneficial apprenticeships can be.

He says: “There is a sort of a chasm between some organisations who absolutely understand the process and others.

“[Many pubcos] understand the benefits to their businesses, and have had years of experience working as an employer provider or with an experienced provider and developing an apprenticeship strategy that has proved extremely beneficial and paid dividends.”

Challenging perceptions

Many smaller pub businesses (SMEs) may not necessarily be dismissive of apprenticeships but still do not hold them to be a integral part of the
industry, Scorer says.

He continues: “I would challenge
that wholeheartedly because there are some great examples of small pub operators who are benefiting from the support and mentoring of apprentices going through the career pathway within their business.

“From an independent point of view, it’s remarkable how the business benefits directly from the engagement of one or two apprentices in their organisation.

“What the apprenticeship model brings is an expertise in the form of a professional trainer to their organisation on a regular basis.

“Activities and assignments set to the apprentice as part of their learning journey, ultimately, benefit the business.”

Lack of understanding

A lack of understanding about how the system works is often at the crux of why many employers are hesitant to get involved. Fewer than half of hospitality businesses have used their apprenticeship funding and 65% are unaware they can transfer a percentage of their levy funding to SMEs within the sector, according to research from HIT.

A 20% ‘off the job’ requirement, which translates to roughly one day a week of an apprentice’s time that is dedicated to the delivery of their course, can put many pubs – already short-staffed and overworked – off the idea.

Many programmes have online learning platforms to enable effective training in a time-efficient way. One example is Stonegate, whose apprenticeship manager Bish explains how its online resources work alongside one-to-one tutoring and group workshops.

“This enables us to support candidates through the application process and also empowers apprentices to take control of their own learning and professional development,” she says.

“It is accessed through a fully functional cloud-based learning portal, available on their smartphone, tablet, EPoS system and computer, facilitating personalised pre-course or primary learning activities.

“Once the candidates are enrolled on the course, our online platform provides them with supporting learning materials, videos and assessments to complete.”

Scorer adds that a tripartite approach is the key to overcoming these hesitancies – along with driving home the message that there is bang for your buck. The learning time off  will directly translate to benefits for your business.

“All parties have a critical role to play at every stage of the journey,” he explains.

How the levy works

It is not the only thing employers feel at a loss about – another thing that can be tricky to work out is how the system is funded, the apprenticeship levy in particular.

The levy requires all companies with a pay bill of more than £3m to contribute 0.5% of their payroll costs to the scheme, which they then claim back for apprenticeship training. This amount is then topped up by the Government.

Businesses with pay bills below £3m can access Government subsidies of 90% of the cost of an apprenticeship.

Larger companies can donate up to 25% of their unspent levy funds to smaller companies in their supply chain and communities, an increase introduced earlier this year.

When this proportion was increased from 10% in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget, many said it did not go far enough. The impact of this increase has yet to be seen.

Reforms not seamless

British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds says: “This [increase] is particularly important for leased and tenanted pubs where the pub company does not employ the staff. The change was only implemented in April, so will take time to filter through.”

The Local Government Association was joined by sector representatives, including UKHospitality, in sending an open letter about the levy to the Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds, earlier this year.

“The levy has helped thousands of people enter the labour market and improve the skills base of those already in work, but the reforms have not been as seamless as many of us would like,” signatories agreed.

It asked the Government to extend the expiry date of funds and boost the number of apprenticeships to achieve local growth.

A growing cocktail of cost pressures means it is harder for publicans to explore the opportunities of hiring apprentices, Simmonds adds.

She says: “Most pub companies have made good use of their levy to train existing staff and recruit new ones. There are, however, considerable real costs and time required to set up apprenticeship schemes and it will take time for everyone to have the resources to use their levy in full.”

Passing the ‘parent test’

There is also a so-called ‘parent test’ barrier yet to break – a perception of jobs with long hours and insecure pay mean many young people are discouraged from pursuing careers in pubs.

“I would always introduce hospitality as a career and a profession, not as a job,” Scorer says.

HIT’s campaign Don’t Waste: The Future of Hospitality​, involves going into schools to tackle this negative perception and reaching out to teachers and parents of potential apprentices.

Perceptions are already starting to shift though, says Scorer. “The assumption that people’s impression of apprenticeships is that it’s an old-fashioned one of long hours, short pay and menial tasks,” he explains.

“There’s a danger that we assume that our views and our historic views of what an apprenticeship is, and the terminology is one that is shared with Millennials and Generation Z.

“Our research tells us young people now see the apprenticeship as a very worthwhile sort of development programme. They see hospitality being a huge advocate of apprenticeship delivery, as being a very viable, exciting and varied sort of professional sector to get involved in.”

Related topics: Training

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