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Is enough being done to upskill the UK’s hospitality sector?

The predicted date for when hospitality can resume normal trading is approaching in June, and Catering Today looks at what the UK is doing to help upskill, attract and prepare the industries workforce for what lies ahead

On 22 February Boris Johnson announced the government’s roadmap to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions in England. The plan, which he described as a “one-way road to freedom”, came almost exactly 11 months after the UK became submerged in a national lockdown that disrupted life as we know it. For business owners in the hospitality space, Johnson’s reveal was the announcement they had been waiting for as the PM finally gave a predicted date as to when they could resume normal trading – 21 June. 

With outdoor dining potentially able to return as early as April, some may say those in the sector are beginning to regain a small bit of hope and are looking forward to welcoming their staff back from furlough. However with many of the sector’s employees unable to work for the best part of year: what is being done to ensure hospitality employees are educated and prepared for what lies ahead? 

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What is the UK doing? 

Looking across the whole of the UK, it appears the most recent development in the drive to upskill workers was in January, when hospitality charity HIT Scotland announced it was accepting applications for a new leadership, management and supervisory online training programme. With the sector forced to cease trading, the course which received funding from the Scottish government aimed to “motivate and develop top talent” in order to help the sector recover from the pandemic. Launching officially on 16 February it was met with great demand, with the organisation revealing that it had to turn away more than a thousand applicants at a time as the maximum capacity of places stood at 950

Over the border in England, attempts to improve career opportunities have also been made, namely through the government’s £2bn youth Kickstart scheme. While the programme was not exclusively created for those in the hospitality sector, tech platform Harrie backed the scheme last September by launching a new website ‘HospitalityUnite’ which provides free online services to make it easy for both businesses owners and 16-24 year-olds looking for a career in hospitality.

Making a change

“The hospitality industry has taken a huge hit in the last year as a result of the pandemic, and its workers are the most likely to have been made redundant or placed on furlough in the UK throughout lockdown,” says James Lemon, founder of Otolo, a new global hospitality platform and community dedicated to accelerating career development through mentoring and job opportunities. 

Lemon launched Otolo at the beginning of the year, and it has since received backing from the government’s Innovate UK programme – so what exactly is it doing to help support employees? “Otolo encourages people to develop skills and new standards by sharing ideas, discussing problems, learning new ways of working and collaborating in an online space which offers free events, forums and digital mentoring”, he explains. 

“Our training and guidance is offered for roles at all levels, whether you’re a graduate searching for their first job and need help to write a stand-out cover letter, or a general manager looking for operations training to better equip you to lead your staff in a post-pandemic world.”

He adds: “Within the space of a few months, we’ve already partnered with the likes of IHG and Ritz-Carlton, as well as Glion, Les Roches and more than 10 UK universities offering hospitality, events and tourism courses, including Edinburgh Napier, Solent University, University of Portsmouth and the University of Northampton.”

Is it enough? 

Despite best efforts, some in the hospitality space have argued that the UK is not doing enough to help career progression for employees.“There are absolutely not enough upskilling courses available for hospitality workers,” says Liam Norval, CEO of hospitality and lifestyle consultancy, Posh Cockney. 

“At Posh Cockney, we are working with a number of clients on our recruitment side and people are asking us how they can retrain their staff because there is so little information out there. The Kickstart scheme is great for young workers but I don’t know if they are getting real-life experience, which is essential,” he explains. 

Norval, who also set up an internship style programme at his agency for young people eager to enter the PR field said that he would like to see more employers offering a “staff ladder to promotion”. According to the CEO, allowing junior staff to grow and take on more managerial style roles offers “far more benefit” than hiring someone externally to fill a senior position. 

He adds: “My clients in the food and business industries are going to have to ensure that all staff are trained in compliance with the new covid safety rules. Unfortunately at the moment we still don’t know what exactly that will be. The timeline we have been given is great but we have still had no guidelines on social distancing and other restrictions that may be in place, making it incredibly difficult to plan.

“After speaking to staff at our client venues, they are still scared and worried. What PPE will they have on-site? How are they protected? There is still a lot of uncertainty. The road map is fantastic but it is just dates.”

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