Staff training is good for business and employees, but apprenticeships call for a much bigger commitment on both sides. Elly Earls investigates the benefits for hospitality operators in training up staff straight out of school.
The government has clearly recognised the need for better training in the UK workplace and, among other initiatives, has invested significantly in apprenticeships across a spectrum of industries. "Apprenticeships are vital to the government's drive to create a more highly skilled workforce who are better able to compete in the global race," skills minister Matthew Hancock says.
Significant progress is already being made. Indeed, according to statistics released at the beginning of this year, 520,600 people started an apprenticeship in the 2011/12 academic year, an increase of 13.9% on the preceding year, and an 86.1% rise since 2009/10.
Within the hospitality sector itself, the latest statistics are similarly encouraging. Over the past four years, the number of people doing apprenticeships in hospitality and catering has more than doubled and completion rates are up by almost 10%, rising to 74% in the past three years.
Undoubtedly, apprenticeship schemes will have long-term benefits for both individual apprentices, who gain a nationally recognised qualification, receive support throughout their course and increase their lifetime earning potential, and the economy as a whole, for which the advantages of an educated workforce are clear.
But, when it comes to individual hospitality operators, how beneficial is it really going to be to their business to take on an inexperienced apprentice? And do those benefits outweigh the cons?
When it comes to cost, it's a no-brainer. Not only are apprenticeships for 16 to 24-year-olds funded by the government, which means that businesses have to invest nothing in actual training costs, but there are also additional incentives, such as the apprenticeship grant for employers, which is valued at £1,500 (£3,000 for London employers) and aimed at helping eligible employers to recruit their first apprentice.
While an employer remains responsible for paying their apprentice's wages, the minimum wage for an apprentice - currently £2.65 an hour - is significantly lower than that of an ordinary employee. However, for Julie Proctor, head of hospitality at one of the country's leading apprenticeships providers Lifetime Training, that doesn't mean employers should pay just the bare minimum.
"In my experience, employers need to see that saving money on their people isn't the right approach," she says. "I would always recommend paying a decent salary for an apprentice. It will absolutely ensure that the apprentice works harder and ultimately stays with them. The investment they get back from my point of view far outweighs the cost."
‘PAY THE GOING RATE'
Arran McDowell, HR director for Elior, agrees. "We pride ourselves on the fact that we pay apprentices the going rate for the job that they are fulfilling and not the apprentice rate of pay," he remarks. "This enables us to have engaged and rewarded colleagues who, in turn, deliver great experiences for our customers and for us as an employer."
Indeed, one of the key benefits of taking on apprentices is the level of motivation they tend to display. "They're generally very motivated because they obviously want a career and to start off on that career pathway," Proctor notes. "That's certainly one of the real benefits and will absolutely support retaining people."
Accor, which has had an apprenticeship programme since 2004 and has put 250 apprentices through it, can certainly testify to this.
"Of the 80% of our apprentices who have completed the scheme since launch, 50% remain in the Accor network," says Thomas Dubaere, managing director of Accor UK and Ireland. "We are very proud of this retention rate as the course is demanding. The apprenticeship scheme has allowed us to hire and train the staff that the business needs. It also creates a positive feeling among young employees, who can see that there are opportunities open to them."
Graham Eveleigh, head of skills development at BaxterStorey, also believes that hiring apprentices is extremely beneficial for businesses who want to mould employees to their specific way of working. "We actually have some very specific requirements in the way we do things at BaxterStorey, such as our fresh food policy," he says. "So, it seemed natural that the way to create an ongoing pipeline was to start at the entry level."
Many training providers, including Lifetime, offer bespoke apprenticeship programmes. "They'll go on a journey that's specific to the company's values and training; it can all be mapped into the apprenticeship programme and that makes it far more successful," Proctor says.
Training providers will also offer support to all apprentices throughout their programme - something that, for Proctor, is invaluable for both apprentices and employers.
"We go out and see how people are doing their job and where they can perform better in their roles," she explains. "When they understand the knowledge element of why they're doing it in a certain way, their productivity increases, as does their customer service, and ultimately the benefit is to the employer and the bottom line."
Once the course has been completed and the initial qualification achieved, it's really just the beginning for many apprentices. "The opportunities for them to progress to the next-level qualification or apply for a more senior role are huge," Proctor believes. "We've seen many people moving to team leader or supervisor positions, going ahead of people that have been employed for longer because they're determined, they're self-developers and they've got real career drive."
"Apprenticeship schemes are a highly accessible route for young people to find employment and offer a structured pathway to management," Dubaere agrees.
Of course, there are disadvantages to taking on first-time employees. While there is often no actual cash cost involved in launching apprenticeship schemes, businesses do have to invest their time in support and a bit of extra hand-holding.
"You have to remember that you have a 17-year-old in the job for the very first time and that there's some proper pastoral care that needs to come into play," Eveleigh emphasises. "You're not just taking on another employee; you have to do a little more hand-holding with apprentices."
What's more, there is always the risk that your freshly trained apprentice will up and leave as soon as the ink is dry on their NVQ certificate. But for McDowell, there are ways of limiting this risk. "Treating apprentices in the workplace as equals is key to retaining them," he advises. "Recognising and rewarding them in the same way we do other colleagues leads to loyalty. Of course, should we lose people, we're proud to know that they have been given a great start with Elior."
They will also go on to contribute to a more skilled and sustainable hospitality industry. "All of us who have worked in the industry for several years know that there is a Shortage of people coming in at the bottom level," Eveleigh concludes. "So anything we can do to help bring new talent into the business is extremely important."
What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a government-funded work-based training programme to help give staff the skills they need to succeed in a business; the vast majority of apprentices are paid. An individual gains nationally recognised qualifications while working for an employer. In turn, the employer benefits from a work-ready employee who can learn on the job. The rest is provided by a specialist learning provider like Lifetime.
The two most popular forms of apprenticeships are intermediate level (Level 2) and advanced level (Level 3).
An intermediate-level apprenticeship takes from six to 10 months to complete and is equivalent to five good GCSE passes; it is designed for those just getting their feet on the career ladder.
An advanced-level apprenticeship is equivalent to two A level passes, and is designed for those who have either completed a Level 2 apprenticeship or have the relevant qualifications or experience. Advanced-level apprenticeships take employees to a supervisory or technician level of competence and can take from eight to 18 months to complete.
Anyone can undertake an apprenticeship provided they are eligible to work in the UK and have an employer willing to take them on.
Perfect pizzaiolos: PizzaExpress's apprentice pizza-makers
In September 2013, PizzaExpress launched the first nationally recognised qualification in the art of pizza-making - the one-year 'pizzaiolo apprenticeship' - devised in partnership with City & Guilds and Lifetime Training. Over the next three years, the company will teach 200 new apprentices the essential skills needed to kickstart their career as a professional chef.
"We've always offered rigorous training to our employees, but we wanted to formalise this and give our pizzaiolos the chance to gain a nationally recognised qualification," says Amanda Underwood, HR director at PizzaExpress. "Apprenticeships are more important than ever, and we're in a unique position to offer well-rounded training to budding chefs."
Apart from training in kitchen services, with participants specialising in making pizzas, apprentices will learn about everything from managing a kitchen to cooking vegetables and preparing meat and fish. "They get all the skills they need to embark on a career as a chef, whether it's at PizzaExpress or somewhere else," Underwood notes.
The equivalent of five GCSEs at grade A-C, the apprenticeship scheme was set up with help from the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), and will also involve face-to-face tuition and guidance from on-site mentors, development workshops and masterclasses.
The company will have to bear some costs, but Underwood says the benefits will more than outweigh the investment. "The quality of every pizza we serve our guests is dependent on the dedication of our pizzaiolos. If we show an investment in them, the result will be consistently beautiful pizzas," she says.
Underwood also believes the retention rate will be high. "We've trained over 10,000 pizzaiolos since the first PizzaExpress opened in 1965," she says. "Our longest-serving pizzaiolo has been with us for 35 years, so we hope that many apprentices will stay. We recognise that others will choose to move on and use their qualification elsewhere, but if they do, we're very happy to have played our part in launching their careers as professional chefs."
•To speak to Lifetime Training about developing a training programme for your business, go to www.lifetimetraining.co.uk
'People you trust and with a feel for the details that matter'
Last year, Lime Wood hotel in Hampshire was crowned Employer of the Year in the Hospitality Guild Apprenticeship Awards for its commitment to helping apprentices by providing them with effective training, support and career progression.
The apprentices at the hotel are supported by head chef Luke Holder, who decided to go down this route because he had found that recruiting staff, particularly skilled staff, was becoming a very difficult and expensive process.
And, since taking on his first apprentices three years ago, his restaurant has certainly reaped the rewards.
"Three years down the line, some of our first apprentices are about to become some of our best chefs de partie," he says.
For Holder, some of the key benefits of bringing on apprentices - Lime Wood takes on four each year - are staff retention, having skilled staff who know your business and expectations, and a reduction in the costs of agency recruitment.
"You need to ride the extra cost of the staff for the first couple of years, but in the long term you save on recruitment fees and staff turnover as well as having people you trust and with a real feel for the smaller details that make the difference within your business," he explains.
Of course, there are cons too. "The difficulty is the drop-out rate," Holder admits.
"Young people are still trying to work out whether this is really what they want to do."
For this reason, Holder and his team are constantly reassessing what to offer apprentices in the long term. "For example, we could send them to our sister hotels, so if they do decide to move on, the move is within our small family