Tackling youth unemployment

01 June 2012
Tackling youth unemployment

The hospitality industry has never had a great reputation for holding on to young talent. Many young people pass through, but few think of it as a long-term career choice.

So, to address the industry's recruitment record, industry leaders are meeting on 11 July to launch "The Big Conversation". And at the BHA's Summit today (1 June), Patrick Dempsey, managing director of Whitbread's hotels and restaurants division and one of the Big Conversation's creators, will explain its significance.

The Big Conversation is the brainchild of one of Prince Charles's charities, Business in the Community, and its aim is simple - to boost dialogue between employers and youngsters, to find jobs for the young unemployed and to encourage work placements and apprenticeships.

Dempsey has sat on the BiTC's Talent and Skills Council for the past four years and has seen the Big Conversation launched in other industries.

"We know that work placements can either inspire or can permanently destroy a youngster's impression of an industry - and we know that it has been a problem in hospitality in the past," he said.

In fact, research by Springboard UK shows that poor work experience does more to discourage youngsters from making a go of a career in the industry than any other single factor.

With Anne Pierce, Springboard's chief executive, and other industry leaders, including Heiko Figge, managing director of Guoman, and chief executives Ian Sarson of Compass and Simon Titchenor of contract caterer ISS, Dempsey has set up a working party to launch a similar event in hospitality.

"Springboard, of course, has already launched its Inspire programme to ensure that work placements are fulfilling. They are a great way to encourage young people into the industry, particularly the young unemployed," said Ufi Ibrahim, BHA's chief executive.

Dempsey tells the story of a conference where there were 200 people, including apprentices, unemployed youngsters, CEOs and HR directors of major companies. He asked one of them why he was there. "Because I'm unemployed", came the reply.

Dempsey said he could probably find him a job if he wanted one. The boy began texting.

"I thought he wasn't interested - until he came back to say that he had four others who also wanted a job. The result was that we interviewed five of them, engaged four of them and all four are still working for us."

The moral of the story is that the industry is expanding (Whitbread was opening a Premier Inn in the new Olympic Park, not far from the boy's home in Tower Hamlets), has job vacancies for youngsters and the unemployed, and has career opportunities at apprenticeship - and other levels - if only young people realised this.

"Whitbread has 60 work placements this summer and we've developed our own programme, but if the whole industry developed structured work placements that worked for both employer and youngster, what a great boost that would be," Dempsey added.

To encourage this type of initiative, chief executives of 50 leading hospitality companies will join a cohort of young people at the Royal Horseguards hotel, London, to discuss tackling youth unemployment and the opportunities that the hospitality industry can offer.

Figge said the event gave hospitality leaders the opportunity to listen to and appreciate the enormous challenges and difficulties faced by today's young people in finding employment - and how much it meant to them be able to get up in the morning and have a job to go to.

"Our goal is to take many more young people into the hospitality industry and provide them with a clear career path for the future."

So, the meeting will share best practices, explore the opportunity of offering apprenticeships and encourage individual company to pledge to create new jobs to help tackle youth unemployment.

"It would be fantastic if the industry could target 20% of all new jobs in the 18- to 24-year-old unemployed category - say 200,000 work placements and 10,000 apprentices," Dempsey added. "That would make a real difference to the life of so many young people who currently haven't got a job."

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