Fred Sirieix, Jo Jackson of The Flowerhouse: 'There are a lot of battles that need to be fought to win the war of the shortages'

The  Staff Canteen

Labour shortages have been an issue in hospitality for longer than the pandemic.

But Covid-19, Brexit and a perception of the industry as being an unviable career choice for young people have created the perfect storm, and is clear that hospitality needs to find solutions to address the problem. We spoke to some of the people leading the charge.

HMPS Training restaurants

Famed Maître d’ and spokesperson for the hospitality industry Fred Sirieix leads The Right Course programme, which offers training to prison inmates by turning the staff mess into a training restaurant, not dissimilar to those found in culinary schools.

In an interview with The Staff Canteen, he explained: “You still have your food, people can come and have their breakfast and lunch, but it’s run professionally with the aim of creating excellence within the service, within the food that is cooked, but also within the experience and the learning that the offenders will do while they are in the restaurant.”

Currently running in two British prisons, Fred is hoping to expand the programme to help inmates find jobs after they are released, which would not only improve staffing in the industry, but lower reoffending rates, too.

As it stands, Fred stressed, The Right Course is not a solution in and of itself.  "Unless we really scale it up, we have no chance of really impacting the staff and skill shortage of the industry. We need to scale it up,” he said.

Putting diversity to good use

Jo Jackson, owner of the recently opened Flowerhouse Pub in Shoreditch, London, is taking another approach, seeking to make hospitality more attractive by creating an inclusive space for groups, such as women, who are typically underrepresented in hospitality roles.

The business, which opened for a soft launch this week, will employ as many women as possible in the hope that this will make the hospitality industry more diverse and inclusive, all the while addressing the more pragmatic issue of finding enough people to operate a successful business.

Jo clarified that the business would not be exclusively female, as the aim is to be inclusive. 

"The last thing I want to do is feel like I’m excluding anybody," she said, "because that is exactly against the point. What I am just trying to address is the balance of the equality.”

Of course, the fact that women have been an untapped resource in hospitality comes down to how attractive the industry has been to them - and increasingly, fine dining restaurants are raising their standards for all staff, making them de-facto more inclusive.

For example, Pied à Terre has a new female-led front of house team, and chef Niklas Ekstedt's new outpost at The Yard is staffed in equal parts by men and women. 

In an earlier interview with The Staff canteen Niklas said: "we have to make it possible for women to choose the profession. One of the problems and the reasons why we're lacking staff is that we've been so male dominated in a sense that we've overlooked 50 percent of the workforce."

This applies all the way up to the world-class kitchens, notoriously male dominated in the past.

At her Notting Hill restaurant, Clare Smyth has introduced measures to improve work-life balance for all her staff. These measures include opening the restaurant for just eight services a week so that staff, regardless of gender, have days off to spend time with their families.

"There is an issue surrounding the industry being perceived as being non-conducive to family life," she told KMIT. "That's why we need to make the industry better for everyone."

It'll take more than this to fix the problem

This is in line with Fred's argument, which is that in order to really address the staffing crisis, wider demographics need to see it as a viable career choice. Not only that, but the UK government needs to somehow counteract the effects of Brexit. 

"Let’s say you wanna do [Brexit]," Fred said, "even though it’s not good, but we then have to put something in place in order to counter the problem."

"We know that about 20-40% of staff are coming from the European Union, so what do we do to plug the gap?”

In Fred’s opinion at least, it seems that the government measures haven’t been enough to help these issues and now it’s up to the hospitality industry itself. With initiatives like his own, and that undertaken at The Flowerhouse, "there are a lot of battles that need to be fought to win the war of the shortages and in order to win that war, it’s fighting all the battles at once, simultaneously.”

Writen by Harper McCarley

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th November 2021

Fred Sirieix, Jo Jackson of The Flowerhouse: 'There are a lot of battles that need to be fought to win the war of the shortages'