Better access to apprenticeships and improving staff engagement will help the hospitality industry plan for the future, says Jason Benn
For an industry reliant on migrant workers, the government's decision to commission a detailed assessment of the costs and benefits of EU migrants to the UK is not only welcome, but essential, if we are to plan adequately for the future.
Concerns over issues such as workers' rights are already making it harder to recruit and retain employees, putting the sector under increasing pressure.
Research commissioned by the British Hospitality Association shows that a quarter of UK chefs are from the continent, and the sector is facing an estimated staff shortage of 11,000 by 2020.
I believe there are several initiatives that the sector must employ now to prepare for the post-Brexit employment landscape.
By continuing to expand access to quality apprenticeships, we can grow and develop skills vital to the industry here at home. Apprenticeships are a valuable opportunity for employers to develop new and existing employees. Employers need to educate themselves on the options available and the potential business benefits - not least for bringing in new blood. By becoming providers, employers can have direct control over the training their apprentice receives, so they are adequately equipped to fill their skills gaps. And the power to choose a reputable end-point assessor or off-programme training provider means they have control
over the quality of their hires.
Employers also need to do more to reduce the churn in their workforce.
Improving staff engagement is key to this. This might be via the provision of opportunities for upskilling - whether through apprenticeships or other training - or perhaps via investment in digital technology such as employee engagement apps, which can help keep staff more engaged and productive.
Being known to look after employees can have significant reputational benefits, as well as benefits to the bottom line.
Meanwhile, young people must be engaged at an early age to develop an interest
in the wide range of training and job opportunities the sector can offer. We know from our Great Expectations research that catering and hospitality does not feature high up on the most popular careers for young people.
Justine Greening's recent commitment to publish the long-overdue careers strategy is welcome. The government and employers must take advantage of the move to simplify qualification routes with the introduction of T-levels, and work harder to promote career opportunities by engaging with the education sector and training providers.
The fact is, whatever the future holds, we still need access to chefs and hotel managers with a knowledge and understanding of the sector to teach the next generation.
Not all of these will be British - and there's nothing wrong with that, provided we are also investing in the domestic workforce. Giving workers assurances about their future is essential to allowing the industry to plan in the short and medium term.
We need to do more to highlight the diversity of the industry and the dynamic job opportunities that exist, in order to grow a skilled workforce. This will take time, but with Brexit around the corner, steps need to be taken now to secure the future of the catering and hospitality industry.
Jason Benn is hospitality and catering industries manager at City & Guilds