The Big Conversation – job opportunity knocks for young people

19 July 2012 by
The Big Conversation – job opportunity knocks for young people

The first in a series of Big Conversations in hospitality brought together over 140 hospitality leaders and youngsters to thrash out how best to support and encourage young people in the industry. James Stagg reports

Industry leaders have pledged to reduce unemployment by offering thousands of work placements, apprenticeships and job opportunities during the next three years.

The sector-wide initiative, organised by Whitbread and Thistle alongside Springboard and the British Hospitality Association, was launched last week at the first in a series of Big Conversations in hospitality, which brought together over 140 hospitality leaders and youngsters to thrash out how best to support and encourage young people in the industry.

The hoteliers, restaurateurs and contract caterers present heard examples of good practice in work placement and apprenticeships, brought to life by employers and those currently on schemes, before making pledges to improve the structure of their operation's employment programmes.

The event was chaired by Whitbread managing director Patrick Dempsey (pictured), who described how his early experience as a 16-year-old on work placement encouraged him to attend hotel school and join Forte. "I had a really good work placement. If I hadn't done that I wonder what I'd be doing now," he said.

"The industry has thousands of job opportunities for youngsters and the unemployed, and has huge career opportunities at apprenticeship - and other levels - if only more young people realised this."

Dempsey said that Whitbread pledged to fill half of all new jobs from the ranks of the unemployed and recruit 500 apprenticeships this year. He urged those present to look at the good practice in the industry and begin a conversation both with their peers and within their businesses, to increase the accessibility of hospitality to unemployed youths.

Other speakers - from Marriott and Compass Group - highlighted their own commitments and delegates heard from youngsters who had already been on successful work placements and apprenticeship schemes.

Springboard chief executive Anne Pierce said that the industry had more vacancies now than it did a year ago, despite there being over one million unemployed young people in the country.

She urged those present to improve the quality of work experience opportunities for young people. "We have joined forces with Business in the Community to support its national cross-economy work inspirations campaign, which urges employers to commit to offering more work experience places," she said. "Plus we're working with the Hospitality Guild to drive more employers to adopt Springboard's Inspire, a quality standard that's designed to ensure all work experience is of a high standard."

Dempsey said that Whitbread took on hundreds of work placements, but that until now they weren't structured. "We want to use the Inspire programme to do 100 structured work placements this year: 30 through the Prince's Trust and 70 through the schools programme," he said.

TGI Friday's managing director Karen Forrester said the industry needed to shout more about the opportunities available. "Let's let these young people know that there are real jobs, real futures and real careers in this industry. One of the reasons we struggle is people don't know about the roles and they don't believe they are real," she said.

In order to address its image the industry must get out more into schools, said Stuart Bowery, general manager at Grosvenor House, who pledged that Marriott would take on 100 new apprenticeships and fill 100 new positions with young job seekers. "It is alarming how under-represented the sector is in schools," he added. "As organisations we need to get closer to them and explain the opportunities. We must fly the flag for hospitality."

Pierce emphasised that Springboard worked to influence school children towards a career in hospitality through 1,000 volunteers, but that more were needed. "We want to treble the number we have," she said. "This way we will be able to reach every secondary school."

Bringing the conversation to a close, BHA chief executive Ufi Ibrahim said the industry must put the talk into action. She referred to the association's research, which shows that hospitality can generate 236,000 jobs by 2015 - half the Government's Youth Contract target for the next three years - and urged operators to make it a reality.

"There are 200,000 businesses in the industry," Ibrahim said. "If every business pledged to offer one work placement, and employ one more local person, we would easily meet our growth target."

Ian Sarson's insight into increasing youth employment

â- Utilise Springboard's Inspire programme to provide structure and improve the learning for young people coming in.
â- Inspire loyalty by offering real tangible benefits, such as degree sponsorship. It's a two-way process. You can't expect loyalty without giving it.
â- Our apprentices are ambassadors for our industry and businesses and we should use them to ensure young people hear about the benefits of the industry from their peers.
â- Capture feedback from new entrants so as not to lose that innocent first impression. Really listen to the answer when you ask "how are you getting on?"
â- Get into schools to tell people what wonderful opportunities exist in hospitality.
â- Don't just rely on great people. Ensure you have great processes in place, too.

Ian Sarson is group managing director of Compass UK and Ireland

By James Stagg

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