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As a hospitality employer, giving opportunities to young people should be part of your DNA, says

The challenges of youth unemployment are well known.   Businesses often claim the talent pool is inadequate to support their needs.  They cite lack of skills, inappropriate qualifications and unrealistic expectations from young people.  Talk of a ‘lost generation’ has been doing the rounds for more than a decade.  What’s more, although youth unemployment is down 96,000 compared to a year ago, there are still 621,000 unemployed 16-24 year olds.*

The hospitality industry has been quick to tackle head-on the challenges of youth unemployment.  As an industry founded on young people, it’s perhaps an obvious sector to embrace and nourish people starting out.  What’s more, it’s not afraid to embrace young people as ambassadors.  Dr Anne Pierce MBE, Chief Executive of the Springboard Charity explains:  “Our Springboard Ambassadors programme focuses on the fact that 16-24 year olds are most inspired by talking to other young people already working in the industry.”

Speaking at the 42nd Big Hospitality Conversation (BHC) at City Hall, London, Pierce’s charity Springboard collaborates with the British Hospitality Association, Government, Job Centre Plus, the Department of Work & Pensions and Believe in Young People to aid the growth of the hospitality industry in jobs, exports and, notably, prospects for young people.

At the heart of the BHC is the intention of Inspiring the Next Generation and creating entry to the workplace.  To date, the BHC has achieved 67,000 new career starts for 16-24 year olds, including investment, training and job opportunities.

Speaking at the event, British Hospitality Association CEO, Ufi Ibrahim, CEO said:  “There are very few industries where you can genuinely start as a pot washer and end up as CEO of a FTSE100 company, an entrepreneur or business owner.  Yet in hospitality anything is possible.”

Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor for Business for London agrees:  “Hospitality is one of the greatest, fastest growing sectors in London.  Hospitality offers employees social mobility – they can move quickly.  And fast.  Hospitality opens so many doors and opportunities.”  He concludes:  “We need to keep investing in the skills of our young people.  It should be high on the agenda for all of us.”

Reaching out to young people, it seems, is a skill the hospitality industry has cracked.  Employers are embracing a range of approaches to tap into this particular talent pool.  What lessons can other sectors learn from this buoyant industry?

  • Hospitality employers support young people by offering a wide and varied range of work placements, apprenticeships and on-the-job-training
  • Increasingly there’s more of a focus on the value of behaviours and skills over academic achievement in this sector
  • Vocational routes are increasingly offered to young school leavers in place of academic qualifications
  • An emerging and buoyant voluntary-work initiative helps to equip young people with the skills they need to enter the work place
  • Young people act as ambassadors to attract other young people into the sector.  Peer-to-peer engagement is key
  • Initiatives like the BHC open up face-to-face networking opportunities which target young people from all backgrounds

Speaking at the BHC event, 17 year old Sebastian Finsburgh is a case in point.  His two-week careers-fair work placement has led to a permanent Saturday job.  An aspiring chef who plans to own a vegan take-out restaurant, Seb has some sound advice for employers considering offering apprenticeships:  “Work experience is a good way to get your company name out there because me and my friends talk about it all the time.  Offering work experience or an apprenticeship is basically free advertising for companies, especially ones who aren’t that well known.”

Meanwhile, Jon Yates, Director & Co Founder of The Challenge sees volunteering as a pathway to employment.  His company seeks to build networks and connections between young people and businesses:  “We give young people a head start, offering them hands-on experience on a voluntary basis, and in return for just 16 hours of voluntary work we guarantee them an interview for a paid part-time job.  We work with some of the biggest names in the business, and Starbucks is one of our major partners.”

Lisa Robbins from Starbucks HR team concurs: “HeadStart opens up opportunities for young people starting out.  It trains them to a competent and confident level in the workplace so they are equipped to get paid employment.”

The routes to young people securing practical, hands-on experience are seemingly plentiful in the hospitality sector, including volunteering, apprenticeships, FutureChef, adult work placement opportunities, undergraduate student placements and apprenticeships, 12 week traineeships at Tottenham Hotspur Foundation and vocational qualifications.  It’s clear that this sector is tackling head-on the challenge of youth unemployment.

The mood at City Hall’s Big Hospitality Conversation was optimistic.  In fact, speaking to young jobseekers, employers and BHC partners at the event, the word on everyone’s lips  was ‘opportunity’ – opportunity to meet potential employers, opportunity to get an apprenticeship, opportunity to inspire the next generation.

The final word goes to Simon Boyle, owner of Brigade Restaurant and founder of Beyond Food.  A culinary ambassador, Simon passionately believes that food can be used to help and support people.  His message to businesses s is simple:  “Inspiring and giving young people opportunity should be part of your DNA as a hospitality employer.”

*(source published September 14th 2016)