It was great to see a record turnout in support of the Academy of Food and Wine Service Awards ceremony last month. The academy was set up 18 years ago with the support of the Restaurant Association and others to try to improve practical service skills in the hospitality industry.
Earlier this year it linked up with seven other professional craft associations and the British Hospitality Association to form the Hospitality Skills Academy, an umbrella organisation destined to allow these various associations to work together to develop their training-related initiatives in a more coherent fashion.
Our industry's skills academy must be driven by employers and offer practical world-class training to learners. It must give employers of all sizes access to wider pools of talented people with drive, enthusiasm, enterprise and flair - and provide learners with employability for life.
While there are some excellent examples of schools, colleges and universities with impressive reputations for training, employers such as myself remain concerned about the lack of people emerging from the current system with practical, hands-on skills.
Many schools still give little serious consideration to occupations in our industry. Many qualifications delivered by further education colleges are driven by funding and assessment regimes, and are not perceived by employers as offering value.
In universities, there has been an erosion of practical learning to the extent that many graduates have limited practical hands-on experience.
More specifically, there are insufficient people inspired to become chefs, waiters, receptionists, porters and housekeepers - occupations that employers find hardest to fill.
It's now vital that employers support this new initiative and are prepared to invest in the academy and contribute towards its funding; provide work placements; form teams of visiting lecturers to deliver and oversee aspects of the academy's syllabus; sponsor the academy's learners and fast-track the best into employment and participate in the academy's programme of events.
We've talked about this for far too long - now's the time for some action.
Over to you
Robyn Jones, chief executive, Charlton House Catering Services "The main thing is to make it a fun, invigorating, sexy industry that people want to be part of. We make sure we value our staff. The worst thing is when you put a chef in a job and they can't cope. It's about making sure employees feel comfortable in their environment and have the tools to do everything they want and is required of them."
Dr Stephen Ball, chairman of the Council for Hospitality Management Education
"The one thing I would recommend is the organisation of a joint industry-education forum to analyse the skills shortage, discuss industry needs and then to draw up, and implement, an action plan through which education would contribute to meeting these needs."
Geoff Booth, head of School of Hospitality, Westminster Kingsway College, London
"Effective messages need to be delivered to young people at the right time in their education; skills and attitudes need to be developed to match the industry expectations and we need imaginative work placements. Training should be available in a variety of modes, supported by ongoing mentoring."
Brian Wisdom, chief executive, People 1st, Sector Skills Council
"I urge employers and their trade bodies to maximise the opportunity which currently exists through the sector skills agreement. Government is committed to work with People 1st on the needs of our sector and to effect change. All parties must work together and put aside individual interests to grab this opportunity."