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Flexi-apprenticeships are the answer to the dwindling hospitality workforce

By Jill Whittaker, managing director of HIT Training

Whether it was a quick bite at a café, a meal at a restaurant, or a pint at the pub, customers were quick to return to their favourite bars and eateries when indoor hospitality was allowed to reopen in May. However, while this surge in bookings has contributed to the UK’s economic recovery, it has been yet another challenge for the hospitality industry. 

Hospitality’s staffing crisis

Sadly, headlines such as “Restaurants hit by labour shortage” or “Hospitality ‘struggling to fill thousands of jobs” are commonplace. Extended periods of business closure, combined with the impact of Brexit, have left venues with a dramatically decreased workforce, at a time where they need more resource than ever before. 

The predicted skills shortage is now upon us, and the hospitality sector is in desperate need of staff who can learn and develop quickly to fill the gap. But in order to attract staff – and avoid losing further talented workers to other sectors – hospitality employers need to offer their employees a future.

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Training and career development is a vital part of that future. For years, the hospitality sector has experienced a ‘leaking bucket’ when it comes to staff turnover, but if the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that we need to give staff a clear path to success – one that offers a career, not just a job. Employers no longer have the luxury of relying on a revolving door of candidates. 

Apprenticeships are one of the best ways to offer a career with longevity. They help unlock skills quickly, and fast-track highly motivated staff into roles where they can provide real value. However, the challenge for the hospitality industry is ensuring that employers are offering enough variety within every role. 

Flexi-Job apprenticeships

Earlier this year, as part of the Budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a £7million fund to run ‘flexi-job’ apprenticeships in sectors such as creative and construction. This approach involves organisations applying for money to start new agencies which support apprentices and place them with multiple employers. 

This means that apprentices will be able to work across a range of projects with different employers, to gain a variety of skills and experience, and it could be the solution that the hospitality sector desperately needs.  Flexible delivery models would allow employers to ‘front-load’ training to embed skills and behaviours early on, allowing apprentices to enter the workplace with the core knowledge they need to hit the ground running.

We’ve already seen industry bodies and the government lay out how this would work for construction*. There is no reason why this couldn’t be applied to the hospitality sector, and soon. 

Given the non-traditional employment patterns in hospitality, with high numbers of small businesses and the breadth of the industry, from full-service hotel chains to independent cafés, employees often need multiple employers to broaden their operational experience.  Under this scheme, a hospitality flexi-job apprenticeship would give learners the broad experience they need and want. 

Not only would this help businesses utilise levy funds better, offer increased flexibility and provide access to a larger talent pool, but it would also establish collaboration between employers, creating an exciting, productive, and valuable experience for apprentices. It would encourage employers to work together to identify where apprentices could add most value and provide employment and training opportunities. 

The next step for hospitality

A multi-skilled hospitality apprenticeship, whereby apprentices would spend time in a variety of roles across the sector before finding their niche area, would take this a step further in addressing the skills gap, while also giving apprentices the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge in areas such as technology, social skills, sustainable working practices, and infection prevention and control. 

The hospitality sector hasn’t been able to perform to its fullest potential for over a year now. As an industry, we have lost hundreds of thousands of talented individuals who moved away from restaurants, pubs, hotels and other jobs in search of more secure career opportunities. This cannot go on. 

We need to motivate a new generation of employees, we need to invest in their future, and we need to give them access to a full range of experiences and environments across the sector. By offering an enhanced work-life experience and opening the door for apprentices to explore more of the sector than ever before, flexi-apprenticeships can not only strengthen but future-proof the hospitality workforce as we emerge from this pandemic. 

HIT Training has worked with People 1st, UKHospitality, the ESFA Hospitality Apprenticeship Stakeholders’ Group, Lifetime Training and the AELP Hospitality Special Interests Group to put forward a solution for the industry, so watch this space.

Byline by Jill Whittaker, managing director of HIT Training

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