Sadiq Khan had ploughed £2m into the initiative, hoping it would provide “thousands of job opportunities”. Westminster City Council had also backed the scheme with a £1m business support grant.
The scheme’s focus was on encouraging progression, increasing diversity and getting people into work, according to New West End Company chief executive Dee Corsi.
It will pioneer a rapid recruitment approach, where CVs are scrapped in favour of on-the-job trials and accelerated training.
The initiative was created in partnership by Step Ahead, New West End Company, Knightsbridge Partnership, Step Ahead Recruitment Agency and AttisTowns, and was devised by more than 100 hospitality and leisure industry leaders in the UK.
‘Westminster Works’ aimed to extend recruitment opportunities to underrepresented groups including ex-offenders, people with learning difficulties, those coming out of retirement, refugees, disabled people, students and parents returning to the workforce.
Keeping an open mind
Step Ahead chief executive Jackie Bedford said employers needed to have “open minds” and be “innovative and flexible” through bringing in employees they may not have considered in the past. The public really backed this kind of initiative, she added, and employers should “boast about this”.
For instance, a team of deaf people could pair with a hearing person, and people who spoke different languages could team with an English-speaking person to find ways of working.
Bedford advised employers not to insist on CVs. Instead, they could invite employees to come for a taster day instead, which was more effective than an interview as showed how they acted in a real-life situation.
She added: “None of us had experience when we started out, but somebody believed in our potential and now we’ve grown in our roles.”
Westminster, which includes the West End, is home to 3,700 pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes, and supports 120,000 jobs in the city. Businesses wanting to participate in the scheme will be asked to sign a ‘Westminster Works’ pledge that promises prospective employees respect, reward and progression.
Long hours and low pay had painted the sector in a bad light, the speakers agreed. Westminster city council planning and development cabinet member Geoff Barraclough said attitudes towards working life had changed since the pandemic. People now had new ideas about what they wanted to earn and what they wanted from a work/life balance.
Making hospitality sexy again
He said operators needed to shift the perspective on hospitality through showing the job prospects were there, you can earn money in hospitality, and it was possible to work in “quite glamorous locations”.
Knightsbridge Partnership and King’s Road Partnership chief executive officer Steven Medway added the scheme aimed to make hospitality “sexy and exciting again” through enacting a culture change in the sector.
Among the commitments, employers will be required to guarantee that they are paying at least the London Living Wage. There will also be a pledge to listening and responding to employees’ issues, championing diversity, adapting working practices when needed, offering more flexible hours and providing additional benefits for career progression.
Attis Towns director and Westminster Works project director Paul Barnes said more than 80 businesses had signed up to the scheme so far, but he was hoping to reach 400.
Rather than experience, he said employers should look to hire people with the “right attitude”, as they could then be trained.
Furthermore, Corsi wanted businesses to be immersed in Westminster Works. She said firms had inspired, informed, guided, shaped, tested, refined and implemented the programme, which caters to hospitality businesses on all levels.