Foodservice bosses have rejected suggestions that the sector is ageist, but have urged operators to remove the barriers preventing older workers from entering the workplace or prepare to face a looming recruitment crunch.
Speaking today at The Caterer's Foodservice Forum, BaxterStorey director Simon Esner suggested that older workers may be the UK's only hope of filling 13.5 million jobs over the next 10 years. He said the industry must take responsibility for its workforce rather than rely on policymakers to act.
"There are only seven million young people scheduled to leave education [during the next decade]," said Esner. "Immigration will not fill the remaining 6.5 million jobs. But we have the people here, and [the over fifties] are an untapped resource. Should government be encouraging that shift? Yes. But it is also up to us. It is a huge opportunity and the marketplace already exists."
Esner was speaking alongside Cartwheel Recruitment boss Hannah Horler, ISS Food and Hospitality managing director Stephanie Hamilton and founder of The Clink Charity Alberto Crisci.
Given that the hospitality sector will create 236,000 new jobs this year alone, Horler said that the industry needed to "adopt a new strategy" and focus as much on upskilling older workers as those entering the workforce. She questioned why there were British Hospitality Association initiatives such as apprenticeships for young people, "but nothing for those aged fifty plus."
Crisci, whose organisation "almost overtrains" those serving time in prison, and then helps them to land and keep catering jobs, agreed. He pointed out that with multibillion-pound benefit cuts outlined in this week's budget, "we need to do something, otherwise a lot of [the over fifties] will end up working for me in The Clink."
While a Department of Work and Pensions report suggested that 48% of the hospitality industry workers were aged under 29-year-olds compared with 18% of wider UK industry, ISS's Hamilton refuted the inference that hospitality was a young person's game. But the panel admitted it could be daunting entering a workplace where colleagues, on the whole, are much younger.
Hamilton said that mature candidates should "not be apologetic about being a bit older" when presenting themselves in interviews and instead concentrate on the value they bring to employers. Mentoring and reverse mentoring schemes helped create a "harmonious workplace and best practise" at ISS, she said, while Esner added that the benefit of hindsight and life experience accrued by older workers "helps the ethos" of BaxterStorey, creating a "DNA that younger team members can learn from."