Brian Wisdom is a man on a mission. As chief executive officer of People 1st, the Sector Skills Council (SSC) for hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism, his remit is to galvanise industry efforts to combat the ongoing skills shortage - no easy task, but an essential one, if UK hospitality is to remain competitive.
"We aim to provide the right numbers of people with the right skills and qualifications at the right time for the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism sector," he says. "There isn't a crisis yet, but there could be."
Between 100,000 and 200,000 vacancies exist in hospitality at any given time, Wisdom says. Of these, he reckons, more than 10,000 are skilled vacancies. By factoring in an average annual staff turnover rate of 47%, and an anticipated industry growth rate of 25%, Wisdom predicts a resources hole of some 1.4 million people by 2012 - the year we hope to stage the Olympic Games.
"The key to the future of the economy lies in driving up productivity," he says. "Skills are a key component to achieving this. But hospitality is lagging behind its key global competitors. For instance, the spend on skills in hospitality in Germany and France is double ours."
People 1st believes the solution lies in combined efforts by government, industry and educators to determine and propagate the core skills required by hospitality. "The Government is dedicated to driving up the skills agenda in UK plc, and determined to have a demand-led approach to vocational education. If industry articulates its needs for the future clearly and with a single voice, the Government will influence the way education delivers in future," says Wisdom.
To this end, the SSC aims to broker a Sector Skills Agreement (SSA) - a contract between employers, education and government "to ensure that the skills employers need are the skills employers get in the future". Step one is an "early warning system", research to map out employers' future needs.
When this research is completed, People 1st will work with industry to set the standards upon which all training schemes are based, and then Kite-mark and simplify qualifications so that employers understand which ones are relevant to their businesses.
The key here is consistency. "We're defining and writing rules that are common, so skills and qualifications are usable across the industry," claims Wisdom.
Finally, the SSC will work with the nations and regions to ensure that they're linked into the strategy sector.
So what can the industry do to help? Wisdom implores employers to sign up on his website (www.people1st.co.uk) and get involved in the initial research. He also stresses that donations - either financial or in kind - are critical.
"The SSCs were set up on the basis that they'd be match-funded by industry," he says. Last year, People 1st received a paltry 62,000 from the sectors it serves. By contrast, a statutory skills levy applies in construction, generating its SSC about 100m for skills development.
Wisdom himself is "not a fan of a levy", but says there's a risk one might appear if hospitality doesn't take responsibility for securing its future skills base.
"People 1st is part of the solution, but the quality, pace and extent of its work is dependent upon industry support," he says.
Whom does the SSC represent? People 1st represents more than 180,000 businesses, employing over 1.6 million people and responsible for 4% of UK GDP.
The sectors it serves are pubs, bars, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions, contract catering, and gaming.
How to get involved People 1st is holding a series of UK-wide events this summer to encourage employers to take part in its strategic review of the skills needs provision. These events will explore what the skills landscape will look like in 10, 20 and 30 years' time. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01895 817041.
What is a sector skills council?
Sector Skills Councils stem from the Government Skills Strategy, and were created to replace national training organisations.
There are currently 23 SCCs representing 60% of UK industry within the Skills for Business network. Their co-sponsors are the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Skills. People 1st is one of the industry's biggest investors in skills.
It is also developing a hospitality diploma for 14- to 19-year-olds to improve staff retention and persuade Government that overseas qualifications should be recognised in this country.