The Caterer and Hotelkeeper Interview – Suzanne Jackson, Hospitality Guild

10 February 2013 by
The Caterer and Hotelkeeper Interview – Suzanne Jackson, Hospitality Guild

Hospitality Guild executive director Suzanne Jackson tells Neil Gerrard how the guild is bringing employers together to help make hospitality a more attractive career choice

Tell us about your background in the hospitality industry.

I eventually joined tenanted pub company Punch Taverns, and I left there in 2011 as the central operations director. I actually left because I was quite frustrated with the industry.

Then I got familiar with People 1st and got to understand about the Hospitality Guild and genuinely thought this is just what has been needed in the industry for such a long time.

Where did the frustration stem from when you were working in pubs? It is about the perceptions of the industry. I had been so lucky and had had so many opportunities - not necessarily because I had driven them, but because people had believed in me - and I didn't understand why Joe Public didn't recognise hospitality as a career of choice.

I always joke that my mum still thinks I am on a gap year, because that is how it is perceived, and I wanted it to be different. I was a director at the age of 33 - that is pretty phenomenal.

In the pub trade, perceptions weren't the reality, and to me it seemed dead simple about how you resolved it: you just all talked the same language. All of these people who do all of these wonderful things - get them round a table and agree the common way to do it. When I saw that opportunity with the guild, it was genuinely the answer to a lot of the frustration that I had seen over a number of years.

How did the Hospitality Guild get started, and why did People 1st start it?
People 1st applied to the Government for some funding in 2011 and succeeded, because it highlighted the job opportunities hospitality offered and the ways it could support some of the agenda in terms of getting unemployed people into work.

So we got some funding, under the banner of the guild, to deliver initiatives that supported its agenda. Most of it was projects that were implemented by People 1st; some of it was distributed to the professional bodies. But it gave us the platform to be able to shout about what we were able to achieve: things like setting up the Asian and Oriental centres of excellence, the Young Hall of Fame, and the first Apprenticeship Awards, the accreditation, kite marking, those kind of things that the industry so desperately needed.

It gave us the platform to say, "This is what it is possible to achieve if we work collaboratively and if we pull all of the information into one place," so that we can raise the standards and, therefore, we can recruit more people but, more importantly, we can retain them.

It was also crucial that we got the professional bodies to join the guild as our partners, because we are the umbrella organisation, we are not just another organisation - that is really critical. We have worked quite hard to be that representative umbrella organisation, and what we are now achieving is employer support.

Why have a differently branded organisation to do this? Why not just do it under the name of People 1st instead of setting up another new industry body? People 1st is a Sector Skills Council, so it is not necessarily a professional body. But aside from the formal description, it is perceived as another organisation, and its specialisms in research and setting standards and its licence with Government to lobby remain exclusive to People 1st. If it had been a People 1st guild, then it wouldn't have been an objective body that is representative of all the other professional bodies, so it is quite important that the Hospitality Guild is seen as a separate organisation that is genuinely representative and genuinely objective.

Part of the work you have done involved setting up five Asian and Oriental centres of excellence at existing colleges and training providers to address the shortage of chefs in the sector - but you didn't get the take-up that you had hoped for. How is this progressing? Things have moved on, and we have now got the apprentices in place. We had to appoint some employees to influence things, because the challenge we were facing - and which we underestimated - was that once we had got these people into the role and they had done their six-week pre-employment programme, at the end of that we needed them to take the leap of faith and go and have their job interview - and often they didn't.

We were working alongside Springboard, JobCentre Plus and other intermediaries to achieve our goals, and we appointed some internal people to support pastoral care, so we have been able to take people through that process. We did a piece of research in September because we were trying to understand why there was a lack of take-up. Was it because it was Asian and Oriental? Was it because it was hospitality? Actually, it was more about the perceptions of the industry, exacerbated by the fact that potential applicants thought they had to be Asian or Oriental.

What it gave us was a real lesson. The centres of excellence that we are funded to operate do not stop at Asian and Oriental. We have five centres of excellence for Asian and Oriental food, seven for food and beverage, and we are looking at a third area but that is still under debate.

You are in the process of setting up a meeting place and training facility for members of the guild, called Hospitality House, and have raised £500,000 in funding. How is this progressing? McDonald's has given us a site in East Finchley, 15 minutes from King's Cross in London, rent-free for seven years. It is on their land but it is a separate building that has its own entrance on the high street, and it will carry Hospitality Guild branding. We are hoping to open in June. It may be sooner than that.

We are in a position where we can go on site now, because we have got the funding, and People 1st is supporting us in that. We have got sponsorship and industry funding worth nearly £300,000 towards the development and fit-out, with another supplier event coming up, so we are still inviting suppliers to contribute the final bits of equipment that we don't yet have. We are also creating a body of founding employers, and their founding status will also support Hospitality House. So we have enough money to go on site, we will be in in February, and the job will be completed in June.

What do you aim to achieve with Hospitality House? The original aim is to create a hub for the industry, so it is somewhere that our partners can work from if they want to. It provides office space and a facility that people can rent or use. There is a fully fitted training kitchen, a fully fitted training bar, provided by Heineken, and there are conferencing and meeting facilities across two floors. We have also got retail - the coffee shop area - in there because retail and hospitality are very closely linked. We will be able to introduce the retail standards part, which contributes to one of our aims, to increase customer service, which is great. We also have an online training capability.

We need to make sure we are supporting SMEs and giving them the same level of access to courses and training as large employers have got, to give enterprise and small businesses the same opportunity to flourish, which, again, is part of the Government agenda. So, by having Hospitality House with its state-of-the-art conferencing facilities including online streaming, we can deliver support for SMEs.

How is the Hospitality Guild funded? Originally, we received £1.7m to set up the guild from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and our ongoing funding will be from industry. That will be, in part, from employers who are supporting us and who want to drive the activity of the guild in the future.

One of the key things is about us being accountable, and that is why, with some of the projects we have got involved with so far, people are surprised to learn that we have not used industry funding. Part of the reason for that is building credibility and building respect and trust.

What we are moving towards is launching our membership, which coincides with our web portal. It will be a nominal amount for individuals, which ranges between £10 and £30. It is not a huge sum of money.

SMEs have got access to a heap of stuff that will support them, which is one of our key objectives, and the price range for them will be between £50 and £150 so, again, it is not a huge amount of money. We will also have support from corporate employers.

Who are these corporate organisations? Companies such as McDonald's, Hilton and Compass are the ones that are ultimately committed. We are in negotiations with another 50. My strategy is for us to be an organisation that people want to work with, rather than it being an organisation that people feel that they have to work with. We have supplier support for Hospitality House from Electrolux, Conti Espresso UK, Claremont Group and Heineken.

What do you hope to achieve with the guild over the next five years? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we created one channel for people to understand how to get the best training and development in the industry? Within that channel, which ultimately will be the guild website, we signpost to accredited training providers, employers and professional bodies. A truly inclusive approach. For example, the guild accreditation for training courses will mean a specific standard of training resulting in qualifications that meet the needs of employers. We will have audited and accredited the training and will have faith in the outcomes. Guild accreditation will stand as a hallmark of best practice and excellence in training.

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