Skip to main content

“It’s not just a summer job”: Changing Perceptions at the BHA Summit


If there was one key learning from this year’s BHA Summit, it was that the UK hospitality industry needs to change its image in the eyes of jobseekers and young people as a place to develop a fulfilling and lasting career. ‘Perception’ was the word of the day.

On June 6th, the British Hospitality Association held its annual summit at The Grand Connaught Rooms, London where over 500 delegates from the world of hospitality gathered to talk, network and listen to top industry professionals as they discussed the challenges facing the sector.

Among the speakers were Ufi Ibrahim, Chief Executive, BHA;Nick Varney, Chairman, BHA; Laurie Nicol, COO, De Vere; Ben Twynam Head of Practice, Heidrick & Struggles; Mike Saul, MD Hospitality & Leisure Team, Barclays and former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and Strictly sensation, Ed Balls.

Of particular interest to hospitality employers were two fascinating discussion panels. George Vezza, MD at Nestle Professional UK & Ireland hosted a session on ‘Inspiring the Future Workforce’, focused on what the industry can do collectively to make hospitality careers more appealing to a younger generation. Natalie Cramp from the Careers Enterprise Company believes that employers need to tell their stories better and improve brand awareness from the get-go, helping those about to leave school to realise that hospitality is not simply a weekend or a holiday job.

Natalie also felt that giving young people the room to grow in the job will go a long way in increasing retention.

Also taking part in this discussion was Andrew Parkinson, Operations Director at Liverpool Football Club. Last year, The Reds completed the first phase of their expansion project, increasing capacity at Anfield by 8,500. As a result Liverpool’s hospitality offering has had to step-up. Their recruitment policy has focused less on skills and more on personality, embracing the notion that if culture comes first, the rest will follow. Likewise, Nikki Kelly, Employment and Skills Manager at the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation stated that with the new White Hart Lane currently under construction, Spurs hospitality recruitment will concentrate on their strong employer brand. Recruiting from the local community is key. A strong push on culture can speak volumes to the hearts and minds of young people.

The day ended with The Big Debate, hosted by Debate Mate. Debate Mate is an educational charity that employs university students to run after-school debating clubs in areas of high child poverty around the world. Three young debaters argued against industry professionals, the subject being ‘Hospitality is Just a Holiday Job’. Familiar concerns were raised, namely that young people simply do not understand that hospitality is a viable career option. In schools, not enough is being done to promote hospitality jobs. It isn’t seen as a ‘dream job’ and it is felt that it’s the industry’s duty to reach out with more inventive methods to impress upon school leavers and graduates that hospitality can be as strong a career as one in law, medicine or the creative industries.

By the same token, it was noted during the debate that success in hospitality can come from the sheer nature of the work, in that many current industry high-flyers started at the bottom and worked their way up, learning all the way. Unlike many career choices, responsibility can come quickly in hospitality and this can be attractive to those now entering the world of work. However, it was agreed that much more needs to be done with regards to stronger on-boarding programmes and creating a candidate experience that breeds retention.

In her closing remarks, Ufi Ibrahim left delegates with the results of a recent survey where hospitality businesses were asked to list key words in order of relevance and importance to them. They said:

  1. A great place to work    
  2. People friendly
  3. Exciting
  4. Low Skilled
  5. Poor Reputation
However, when the same was asked of consumers and young people, the results give employers a lot to think about:


  1. People friendly
  2. Poor Reputation
  3. Low Skilled
  4. Exciting
  5. A great place to work

The BHA Summit provided a day of fascinating insight that underlined the challenges the hospitality industry faces in attracting and retaining talent. In a sector characterised by acute skills shortage, hospitality employers can and should take the lead in attracting the talent the whole industry desperately needs. By actively promoting themselves as employers of choice, and showcasing the exciting and rewarding careers they offer, they will in turn benefit the whole industry.

It’s a notion that’s been discussed at industry forums for decades, but now more than ever hospitality employers who wish to meet their demand for skills must actively focus on creating the supply. After all, if not now, then when?