Mike Haslin, the chief executive officer at TUCO, The University Caterers Organisation, considers the exceptional career paths available in higher education
“A catering career in higher education offers an extraordinary opportunity to secure long-term employment with better than industry-standard working hours, annual leave and career progression.
“The higher education market is an innovative and diverse environment. One that delivers not just student food, but also best-in-class fine dining to corporations and VIPs. Modern higher education hospitality is worlds away
from its former institutional reputation and it now provides market-leading food and drink offers.
“It’s an opportunity to deliver distinctive menus, to produce high-quality mass catering and fine dining that competes with local businesses, and to produce quality menu development while being supported by excellent
working hours and conditions.
“A catering career in higher education not only offers superior working hours to other hospitality jobs, but it can also offer a fast-paced upward career path. It is a true meritocracy, one where talent and work ethic is rewarded with rapid career progression.
“It is also underpinned by an unprecedented amount of professional training and learning opportunities, good pensions and annual leave. Late evenings are much rarer in higher education than in mainstream hospitality careers, and weekends and bank holidays are less commonly worked.
“To help support chefs thinking about choosing a career in higher education, TUCO has developed an interactive career map, which is free to use and available on our website at www.tuco.ac.uk/learn/career-map.
“The career map is an innovative jobseekers’ tool that plots the career opportunities in university hospitality. When clicked upon, each interactive job shows the skills, talent and training requirement for a position.
It also provides a suggested salary expectation, job role and relevant professional bodies. The career map illustrates the breadth of roles available and has been used for auditing skills, training and development as well as for performance management and recruitment and retention of staff. It’s a great way to start developing your career.”
“With more sociable working hours, excellent job conditions and a real opportunity for career progression, a career in higher education has never been more appealing.”
Higher education at glance
● TUCO members cater for an estimated 3.5 million students
● TUCO members produce 635,000 meals a day
● The busiest day of the week is Wednesday, and the least busy day (excluding weekends) is Friday
● TUCO members employ 32,730 staff members
● 58% of all staff are front line, 14% are chefs, 13% are front line leaders and 15% are senior managers or above
● The estimated total learning and development annual budget for members is £1.4m
● There is significant support for “grow your own” staff, ie generating competencies and efficacy among current employees or recruiting with the specific objective of developing staff
● There is an appetite for mentoring and coaching staff, especially at higher levels
● There is striking longevity of service among senior staff of TUCO members and a significant number of senior staff started their career as a chef.
In the spotlight…
Leigh Hawes, section chef at St John’s College at the University of Cambridge, gives a snapshot of life as a chef in higher education
What are your working hours?
“It’s all year round at just under 40 hours a week. I have three days off one week and one day off the following week, and alternate weekends off. We do four long days every fortnight. There are 36 days’ holiday a year and the college is closed for three days at Christmas. This helps me plan, so it gives a better social life/work balance.”
How do you think this compares to other chef jobs in hospitality?
“It is a very busy operation all year round, both in and out of term, but we do not finish too late in the evening compared to hotels and restaurants. The range of foods and dishes, which are all fresh, is probably a bigger range than what is in the hotels. We also prepare lots of meals for specific diets. We have Allergy Accreditation and we have won awards for our sustainability work. We are always looking ahead and being creative.”
What do you love about working in higher education?
“The service times are better and the work is very diverse, from student dining to canapé parties, receptions, fine dining dinners, events for donors, etc…”
Is there an opportunity to learn on the job and progress?
“Yes, there is always new training and development courses and innovative ideas, and we use new equipment.”
Describe the kind of food you produce on a typical day.
“There’s such a variety. There’s the Buttery Dining Room, which is open all year for breakfast, lunch and dinner for students, fellows and staff dining, and the formal hall is open six nights a week during term time. There are also canapé parties, fine dining and commercial events, and we also do large garden parties for VIPs, the May Ball and college reunions.”