'We have to stop waiting for the government to stand forward. At some point, we've just got to take it up on ourselves'

The  Staff Canteen

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, hospitality and catering education in the UK needed reforming to make the sector more attractive to young talent. 

John Holden, who oversees work experience and industry relations as well as being an F&B lecturer at Tameside College, created the Bridging the Skills Gap group two years ago, bringing together college leaders, higher education courses and industry members, all of whom have a vested interest in improving access to, funding for and the content of hospitality education in the UK.

A meeting last week sought to identify issues resulting from the pandemic, but also to offer people the opportunity to network and discuss the creation of a national skills hub, how colleges can unite together and with the industry to foster young talent and promote opportunities, discussing endeavours to keep learners engaged. 

Without a united front, attendees argued, the sector is left to the whim of government, which sadly has a bad track record when it comes to encouraging young people to seek work in hospitality and has overseen drastic cuts to college funding.

Negative, outdated stereotypes play a significant role in discouraging young people and their parents from considering a career in hospitality.

Having spent the past twelve months in limbo, propped up by government support, hospitality is at a crossroads. While much is at stake, there are many opportunities to be seized on, too. 

Last but not least, participants discussed what the industry will need from colleges and vice versa as the pandemic restrictions are lifted - and namely, access to jobs for students, and employees for businesses.

The London Skills Hub - and why it won't do 

As the proposition that a 'London Skills Hub' was rejected by Fred Sirieix, the consortium are of the belief that any such initiative needs to be nationwide, highly accessible and not just focused on fine dining but inclusive of all elements of hospitality. 

Whilst many colleges - such as Mr Richard Morris at Edinburgh College and Audrey Buckley at West Lothian College - have worked tirelessly to build links to the industry, it's not always so straightforward. 

For example, Audrey explained, "smaller colleges and the ones that may be a little bit more isolated do miss out from quite a lot of the things that are going on because people go to the bigger colleges first for these things," meaning skilled students and educators miss out on opportunities, and by extension, so does the industry. 

On the flipside, creating a hub for the rest of the UK might not be necessary either, a point well put by Gordon McIntyre. He was part of a group which wanted to create a chef's hub for Glasgow, and is part of the team behind the Hotelier's Charter

"But when they started looking around," he said, "it was decided there's plenty within the colleges within the city and the central belt, that there was no need." 

"Sometimes we get it in our heads that we need another hub, another centre of excellence, another academy, but we don't. What we've got are very very good institutions - regional colleges, city centre colleges and otherwise doing very good jobs with very good networks and links with the industry. 

"What we need to do is knit it together better," he said, improving on collaboration and sharing. 

Having launched the Hospitality Charter, he said, has forced companies "to think about their staff in much better ways." 

"Our students can choose to work for these employers, who are better than those who are not offering the best terms and conditions." 

A PR Campaign for hospitality 

"It's not a national skills problem, it's more of a national message we need to be putting together about hospitality," said one participant on the call.

Students are still convinced that when they finish college, if they'd like to work in hospitality, they need to commit to working 90 hour-weeks in a Michelin star restaurant, or insert other outdated stereotype. 

"We need to change that," he said, calling for a joint message to be put out to people. 

At his college, he said, students follow a Brigade de France structure, whereby students don't have to do certain things to get to a certain level, and instead can focus on what they are good at and what they enjoy. 

"It's a very different way of working these days." 

"Some people will go to mise en place, some people will go to managing. It's about us putting the message out there to work in what you're interested in, not what you have to do." 

Unfortunately government initiatives are not only few and far between, but they fall short of meeting the needs of colleges and the industry, Francisco explained. 

"Until we all come together with a proper PR plan that shows there are a lot of benefits to working in our industry - and yes there is a lot of hard work, no doubt, but there are a lot of benefits - we will continue to struggle." 

Galvin at Windows general manager Peter Avis said: "We have this big skills gap on the back of Brexit, on the back of this pandemic,"  and the onus, needs to be on education and the industry together. 

"We have to stop waiting for the government to stand forward. I've been doing this for the best part of 20 years and we're still waiting for 10 Downing Street to come out and support hospitality." 

"At some point, we've just got to take it up on ourselves." 

Silver linings of Coronavirus

In fact, according to Gordon, the pandemic has reinforced colleges' links with the industry, with the knowledge that talks and demonstrations online open up a world of opportunity for students.

"We can bring on four different speakers over an hour and students are engaging hugely with it," he said, "and they're able to get presenters from anywhere in the UK - we're even looking at Europe and further afield now, because that's something we can do." 

 Torridon director Rohaise Rose Bristow agreed that the advantages of the pandemic have included more time to reflect on practices and operations, as well as more time to interact with colleges. 

She argued that the Torridon "and a number of my colleagues around the country are ready, able and willing to connect with colleges," but that when operations are in full swing it isn't at the forefront of their minds - nor are they necessarily aware of who to contact unless they are contacted by colleges themselves. 

"Maybe there's a missing link there, maybe it's not just me - but certainly that collaboration is more important than ever now." 

Head of HR at Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons Sarah Powell agreed, and said that "As colleges, we could maybe be working a little bit smarter," namely by sharing guest speakers on digital panels. "If we weren't taking up that person's time three, four or five times, it could maybe work." 

Going back

Colleges are now braced to support the industry as it returns post-pandemic, as many will have roles to fill, and the massive importance of having the strong industry links for colleges, so that they can be prepared, helping students to get their CVs ready and prepare to be interview ready, despite what is likely to be a swamped jobs market.

Ultimately, John explained, the Bridging the Skills Gap group could become a foundation or a charity, mainly to enable students to get to work experience, with support for transport or accommodation, similar to that of the Savoy Educational Trust - which seeks benefit the hospitality industry through education.

He said: "Now more than ever, we need to make sure that education and industry partner together to lift this amazing industry from its knees, we are here to help. I am more than willing to speak and link with any college or industry member that wishes to join BTSG in the future."

If you'd like to be involved with the Bridging the Skills Gap initiative, visit www.BTSG.org.uk.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th February 2021

'We have to stop waiting for the government to stand forward. At some point, we've just got to take it up on ourselves'