By Denis Sheehan MIH, Publisher, H&C News: Consensus: Apprenticeships offer the best entry point to hospitality and catering.
Earlier this year Umbrella Training commissioned research surveying more than 2,000 people between the ages of 14-21 across the UK, to better understand their perceptions of hospitality and catering as a career choice.
Generation Z, or Gen Z as referred to in the research report, iGeneration or even post-Millennials, is largely defined as people born between 1996 and 2012, which means that the older people in this generation are likely to have already entered the workplace.
The younger people in this generation are of school age and likely to be currently considering their future careers.
The most recently available figures estimate that 20% of the UK workforce is made up of Gen Z.
The research was carried out post-pandemic showing the industry receiving both positive and negative coverage during the period, which has remained. Positives included highlighting its role in supporting people and communities, and negatives included businesses and jobs put at risk through lockdowns.
The results from that research were discussed and debated by a group of hospitality and catering professionals, at The Dorchester in London.
A summary of the research was presented by Dr Maria Gebbels, who in 2016 was awarded a PhD for a study entitled, “Career Paths in Hospitality: A Life History Approach” from the University of Brighton.
In order to address any problem an understanding of causes and effects needs to be undertaken to formulate a treatment plan.
The current shortage of people and skills in hospitality and catering is not new, but its scale is. For an industry still trying to recover from the pandemic, people and skills shortages limiting operations reduce the ability to do so.
To make matters worse, the shortages occur during the onset of a cost of living crisis and a recession.
Overall, the coverage of hospitality and catering during the pandemic highlighted the range of career opportunities available. Emphasising benefits including an increase in health and safety standards, and elevated the status of hospitality careers as they have become more valued by the public.
There were many ‘ad hoc’ statements in the research underlining a very positive view from the survey participants.
There were also ‘ad hoc’ statements in the research underlining a very negative view from many.
The results showed that young people feel they have little knowledge of the vast range of careers on offer in hospitality and catering due to being poorly informed at school, with 61 percent saying they felt that a lack of food technology in school curriculum contributed to this perception.
Beliefs about low pay, unsociable working hours, difficulty of achieving work-life balance and a lack of clear career progression are deemed to be issues.
Low status, hostile work environments including bullying, as well as influence of peers, parents, family members, and poor or no promotion of hospitality careers by career advisors in school settings remain a challenge.
95% of school leavers are not considering a career in hospitality.
Three key themes emerged from the research results…
Jo Harley, Managing Director, Purple Cubed, set the scene for first impressions saying: “People decide whether they stay with you in the first 100 days. If fundamentals aren’t in place to deliver values, you can’t get anywhere. It’s important to understand the real lived-in experiences in business.”
The first impressions theme could also perhaps have been labelled ‘established impressions’ as many surveyed wanting to follow a career in finance, HR, marketing and many other areas, did not seem to associate them with hospitality and catering. Waiters and waitresses headed the list of roles linked to our industry, followed by barista, chef, house keeper, receptionist. Finance director and marketing were at the foot of the table of results.
The first impressions of some of people that have worked in hospitality and catering were not positive. The research recommended employers need to pay particular attention to new starters to ensure a positive first experience, the research data revealed anything less can have a long lasting impact on their future commitment to and career within the sector.
This generation is known as the first one who works to live, and looks for purposeful and meaningful work that doesn’t only ‘pay the bills’ but contributes to their personal values.
Gen Z wants to feel challenged and be heard, whether in their commitment to tackling climate change or in their desire for sustainable, diverse, equitable and accessible workplaces, which is also evident in their expectations for mental health support, and businesses encouraging and supporting teamwork.
Gen Z respondents also had very clear expectations regarding the selection, recruitment, and interview processes.
Since Gen Z is the first generation to have grown up with advanced technology, and use social media multiple times a day, it is no surprise that when job hunting, 73% of our respondents would use online channels when looking for jobs – including online job sites, online recruitment agencies, and social media/influencer pages.
Clear job adverts posted on social media sites and an inclusive process respecting diversity are also valued by our respondents.
Simon Maguire, Director at West Peak looked forward saying: “The report highlighted a number of areas in which businesses could make very tangible changes to improve engagement, retention and attraction of Gen Z.
“However the point that stuck with me given my 25 years in operational roles in the sector is that leadership development particularly post covid is absolutely crucial if companies wish to succeed in engaging employees when they start, and throughout their career journey.
“Without this key element, which many have reduced investment in, or removed, we will continue to see high levels of attrition and a reputation which is below par for the great industry we continue to experience.”
Security and Safety
Gen Z respondents see job stability, security and safety as ‘critical’ components when considering their future careers.
The pandemic shook respondents perceptions of hospitality and catering in job stability, security and safety.
On the positive side of perceptions, there has been a newfound appreciation for people working in hospitality and catering, who went above and beyond serving and helping others during the pandemic.
Generation Z want security alongside training opportunities and skills development. They want to work within environments providing purpose and meaning.
First impressions are retained, first experiences of working in hospitality and catering are vital to all employers and the industry as a whole.
The assembled group brought together by H&C News in Partnership with Umbrella Training listened attentively to Dr Gebbels. Once the summary was complete, feedback was immediate and unrelenting.
Not one person voiced any surprise in the results with many saying the problem of recruiting and retaining people has always been part of hospitality and catering. The scale of the current situation however was seen as unique, and worrying.
Alongside many other current and pressing issues the lack of people available for work was focused on with data from the Office for National Statistics released days earlier showing unemployment and vacancies in the UK on level terms.
Education came on the discussions agenda. Professor Peter Jones MBE addressed many issues in education, best summarised as the need for more being central to developing a sufficiently skilled workforce, with apprenticeships being central to this. Professor Jones was forthright saying: “I think there is a general understanding of what needs to be done, the difficulty is knowing how to do it.”
Reflecting on the discussions Milet Lukey, Vice President People & Culture at Dorchester Collection told us: “I was a very enthused listener to the discussion following the sharing of the report. Although it was not a surprise, the report underscored the importance of good pay, flexibility in work arrangements and the attraction, selection and onboarding experiences for the youth coming into the industry. I am grateful to receive the report and will share it with our team.
“It was very clear agreement that there is more work to be done, but it will take the entire community of government, private and public hospitality companies and educational institutions to erase the negative impressions about hospitality. We need to expand our numbers of good employers and provide a more robust curriculum to prepare students for the reality of our work. There is much pride in this profession but unfortunately not shared by all.”
Staying with education, Sandra Kelly, Skills Director, UKHospitality said: “The infrastructure of the education system has not helped the sector. There is no clear pathway at the moment into hospitality and catering. We now have 90,000 students who will not convert to employees because there isn’t a structure in place to do so.”
The dilemma for all at the table was that their own people and skills issues were far less pronounced than the wider general industry. The way in which people are recruited, trained and developed when ‘done right’ clearly has a profound impact on retention.
This was evident throughout the event through the way we were all looked after by a group of young people working with The Dorchester. They clearly all enjoyed doing their jobs, and did them very well. In my thank you email to The Dorchester team I liaised with in organising the event I wrote: “All of the young people looking after us were a credit to your brand. They all knew how to do their jobs and were not only professional, but a pleasure to work alongside. Delegate feedback has been “exceptional”.” It was deserved.
The importance of having ‘the right’ culture was a recurring theme, again and again the rewards of having a people focused culture were shared by delegates.
The value of people focused culture was woven throughout every aspect discussed, not only in terms of managing work environments that provide purpose and meaning, what Gen Z want, but also in financial terms, less cost and higher profitability to reinvest into businesses.
The delegates shared consensus was that apprenticeships offer the best possible entry point to hospitality and catering as they provide training and development alongside paid work experience. There is a commitment from the employer to the employee, and in most instances clear career progression opportunities. Some voiced opinions that rates of pay for apprentices need to be increased and they had already done so.
Adele Oxberry FIH, Chief Executive and Founder of Umbrella Training reflected on the morning saying: “Apprenticeships will not solve all recruitment and retention issues facing hospitality and catering, but they are a vital component that needs to be adopted and grown across our industry. This roundtable discussion was incredibly useful as it offered a multitude of perspectives from across the hospitality sector.
“What really struck me was the complete agreement that we, as a sector, need to collaborate more in order to tackle some of the very real and harsh challenges we are all facing.
“The new world that we live in requires placing a huge emphasis on how we use technology to engage our teams, as well as training for both our future and existing leaders on how to get the best out of the new workforce.
“Whilst some of the findings and discussions were uncomfortable to see, I’m hopeful that we now have a clear idea of where we need to focus our collective efforts.”
I would like to say thank you to Adele Oxberry FIH, Chief Executive and Founder of Umbrella Training, and Sara Roberts Managing Director, Umbrella Training for commissioning the research and enabling the discussions at The Dorchester to take place.
I would also like to say thank you to Dr Maria Gebbels for completing the survey report.
Last and certainly not least, thank you to all the delegates for your time and contributions to the discussions.
The H&C News Apprenticeships in Hospitality and Catering Roundtable is an annual event, we look forward to the ongoing development of key recruitment and retention dialogue in Partnership with Umbrella Training.
Interviews with some of the delegates are featured in the video below, shedding more light on discussions and outcomes from the event.