The De Vere Group has set its sights high and plans to train 10,000 young people as chefs and service staff over the next three years.Janet Harmerchecks out three of the new training centres in Crewe and Liverpool
At a time when the hospitality industry is faced with a potential one million vacancies to fill over the next six years, the De Vere Group is tackling the challenge head on.
Costing an initial £1m to set up, the De Vere Academy of Hospitality has been launched by the De Vere Group with support from the National Apprenticeship Service, local councils in the areas where training centres have been established and corporate sponsors such as Nestlé. The first centre was launched in January 2010 at Cheadle House, a De Vere venue at Manchester Airport.
Since then, a further five centres have opened in Crewe (Wychwood Park, a De Vere venue), Milton Keynes (Harben House, a De Vere venue) and at three locations in Liverpool (Tranmere Rovers FC, Liverpool Film Academy and Silk House Court).
Later this month the De Vere Academy will launch its first site in London at Devonport House, a De Vere venue in Greenwich. Soon after there will be two more centres in the capital, including one at Charlton Athletic FC.
With six training centres open within one year and many more to follow - after London, sites are being looked at in Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle and Nottingham - the academy is well on its way to achieve its aim of training 10,000 young people in professional kitchen and front-of-house skills over the next three years. Areas of high unemployment with a high demand for hospitality jobs are key target area for the centres.
So, how has De Vere so swiftly taken the steps to set up such a comprehensive training programme which young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are now flocking to join, when other companies within the industry are struggling to fill the hundreds of vacancies they have on their books?
Two key personalities - namely Richard Balfour-Lynn, chief executive of the De Vere Group, and Kellie Rixon, now managing director of the De Vere Academy but formerly human resources director of the group - have driven the initiative and been determined to see it get it off the ground quickly.
"In fact, it was just 167 days after my first conversation with Richard about setting up a training programme, that we opened our first centre near Manchester Airport," says Rixon.
Once the first site was up and running, it was necessary to show that the training programmes it offered were working, with a passionate team of young people eager to join and hospitality companies keen to offer the apprentices work placements and ultimately full-time positions - in order for the expansion to move forward.
Witnessing the infectious enthusiasm of the apprentices at first hand on a visit to three of the training centres - the one in Crewe and two in Liverpool - is heartening. Many of the young trainees have comes from difficult personal backgrounds, some of been in care, while others have been long-term unemployed.
"I see this as a way of gaining a qualification which will help me move on with my life," says Thomas Pierce-Taylor, 20, who has ambitions to be a hotel night porter. Connie Manifold, 18, who is a customer service apprentice, wants to be a receptionist. "The academy is helping me build my confidence and teaching me how to deal with customers," she says. And Jim McKeating, 22, hopes his experience at the academy will give him the qualifications he needs to enable him to travel and work in New Zealand.
Rixon believes the speed the academy has taken off is due to the key elements it offers.
"We looked at what doesn't work in hospitality apprenticeships - where the achievement rate has been as low as 56% - and turned everything on its head," says Rixon. "So we've introduced a £100 per week wage, shortened the courses from the length of traditional apprenticeships and integrated the training with the industry. Getting the youngsters used to the workplace as soon as possible has been essential to the success of the training."
Success is measured by what happens to the apprentices once they have completed their courses, which are 12-weeks long for customer service and 16 weeks for professional cookery. Currently, 15% of the youngsters are offered internal appointments within the De Vere Group - including any one of the 11 De Vere hotels, 26 De Vere village hotels or 29 De Vere venues - 40% gain jobs with other companies, 10% go on to further education, 5% move into other industries and about 30% are referred back to the Connexions service.
"Some of the youngsters are just not ready to go into the workplace," says Rixon. "Some of them have come from very difficult backgrounds and have anger issues to overcome.
"However, we are monitoring, through Connexions, those students who have been referred back and are finding that many of them are getting jobs within the first six months after they have left us."
With just 15% of the apprentices being taken on by the De Vere Group, the academy was never about providing skilled staff for internal purposes. To be sustainable on a large scale, it is vital that the academy works in conjunction with its competitors to provide future employment for the trainees.
For Balfour-Lynn, establishing the academy has been the most significant achievement of his professional life. "With one million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 out of work, we as a big player in the industry wanted to do something that was going to really make a difference," he says.
"We are very happy that we are able to help the wider industry as well as our own business. Seeing the energy, passion and enthusiasm that some of these youngsters have, and the dynamism that they inject into the hotels and restaurants where they are placed, cannot help but put a smile on your face.
"If British hospitality is going to move forward, it is vital that we help as many young people as we can. At the moment I see no ceiling to the development of the academy - there is no reason why we cannot eventually offer training up to degree level."
how the de vere academy of hospitality can help your business
â- Work placements are a means of trialling trainees for a full-time position.
â- When looking for staff, the academy has a pipeline of enthusiastic young people who have already shown their commitment to the industry and are keen to take their first step into a permanent job.
â- Work placements offer a opportunity to promote your business in a positive light to the next generation of hospitality staff - even if you are unable to offer a full-time position now, you may be able to it the future.
â- Working with the academy is a means of fulfilling your company's corporate and social responsibilites.
Dave Turner, chef-lecturer, De Vere Academy of Hospitality at Wychwood Park, near Crewe
"The overall package of what we are offering young people here is the best balance between classroom training and work experience that I have seen. Getting the trainees in the workplace as soon as possible encourages them to respect the working environment. And, in return, receiving a wage makes them feel respected. The fast-track nature of the training is the final element of the package."
Grant Mckenzie, general manager, Malmaison Manchester
"We've taken on six apprentices during their work experience so far. They have been a big improvement on your usual work experience types as they are well briefed and have already received some training. It's clear they want to be here and want to be developed - they are very keen. We can recruit guys that have degrees in hospitality who don't work out, but with the academy we see an organisation aiming to make the industry available to everyone, no matter what their background or qualifications - this can only be positive."
Sian Hall, 23, customer service student, Liverpool Academy
After only two weeks at the academy, Hall attended an event at Liverpool Town Hall to promote the training centre. She spoke to 50 business people about why she wanted to work in hospitality and said she was keen to work at the city's Hard Days Night hotel. Unknown to her, the hotel's general manager Mike Dewey was in the audience. He had previously told the academy that he would need to interview any apprentice before offering a work placement, but he was so impressed with Sian's presentation that he called her the next day and offered her a position.
DE VERE ACADEMY: factfile
De Vere Academy of Hospitality
0844 980 0493
Recruitment process Apprentices, who come from a diverse range of social and educational backgrounds, are recruited on one factor - potential. They are selected via Connexions, Jobcentre Plus, Youth Offending, schools, colleges, referrals from existing and graduate students, the National Apprenticeship Service website and the De Vere Academy website.
Course details Two apprenticeships are currently available - the 12-week programme in customer service and 16-week programme in professional cookery. Both courses offer a BTEC level 2 qualification. After a two week induction programme in the training centre, trainees spend their time divided between the classroom and in work placements.
Student numbers Cohorts of about 50 apprentices are taken on at a time. Since January last year, 500 apprentices have graduated. Of the 90% of students who complete the course, 100% achieve the level 2 qualification.
Work placements Students are being offered the opportunity to work at a variety of hospitality operations during their training. As well as De Vere hotels and venues, Malmaison, Crowne Plaza and Thistle Hotels are also taking students. Restaurants supporting the academy include the Nobel House, London Carriage Works and Bem Brasil - all in Liverpool.