The staffing crisis will not solve itself, so Peter Avis is taking action to ensure young people are encouraged and supported into a career in hospitality.
Back in March 2021 when we were planning the reopening of Galvin at Windows and 10° Sky Bar, it was evident that we were facing a serious recruitment challenge here in the UK. This was due to the pandemic, with many young people going home to their own countries, the after-effects of Brexit and our government categorising our sector as low-skilled, and, as always, the negative perception of hospitality in the UK.
So, the team and I decided to take the bull by the horns and turn the challenge into an opportunity for young British hospitality talent. We created a 12-week work placement training programme aimed at young British people, working with our chef-patron Chris Galvin and the hotel general manager Michael Shepherd.
With the help of my network of contacts in the northwest of England, the aim was to interview five candidates and offer them full-time positions with full pay, accommodation and all meals while on duty working alongside us at the five-AA-star London Hilton on Park Lane.
Working with my restaurant manager Antonio Forte, our executive chef Marc Hardiman and John Holden from Thameside College in Manchester, who runs a great initiative called Bridge the Skills Gap, we set out to find our students, and after many interviews, selected our five stars. They are now coming to the end of their programme, and it has been truly amazing seeing how this scheme has changed their lives in so many ways – as well as ensuring we have had a full front of house team. It has been win-win all round.
The most important thing about the programme for me is that we are not only showcasing what an amazing sector hospitality is for British talent, but we are helping these young people find their confidence and giving them a chance to work in a great industry. Antonio has given each student a buddy to help them during their time in London, and my role has been to mentor and support them – the students and their parents and carers. I understand the impact moving away from home at a young age can have on a young person and their family, and I felt it was just as important to support their families.
About halfway through the programme, I invited the students to my house for dinner with me and my family – I wanted them to feel they had a network away from work. I can remember arriving in London many years ago, when my sisters and I had the chance to live in the staff accommodation at the Royal Garden hotel – it allowed us to save and buy our first property in London. Antonio also arranged evenings out with the team, and this helped the students feel safe and supported during their time with us.
Now more than ever, collaboration between industry and education is crucial to help plug the skills gap and attract more young people into hospitality. The industry offers so many fantastic opportunities to build a fulfilling career. My journey – how I arrived from Liverpool and have worked my way up to general manager here at Galvin at Windows – really shows how amazing a career in hospitality can be for young people. We're delighted to be supporting young people's first steps into the sector through this scheme.
Our current group finished their programme this week and will have the opportunity to either take on a full-time role here at Galvin at Windows or one of our sister properties, or they will return home. One thing I know is that each of them will have a very bright future in hospitality.
The programme has been such a success that we are about to start the recruitment drive for our next group, who will start at the end of September.
I would encourage my peers and colleagues in hospitality to think outside the box and do all they can to support great British talent. If we all committed to this in some small way, what is currently being deemed as crisis could actually be the tipping point of opportunity.
Peter Avis is general manager of Galvin at Windows at the London Hilton on Park Lane
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