Viewpoint: Stepping up to the challenge

12 December 2019
Viewpoint: Stepping up to the challenge

Despite the increased focus on apprenticeships since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, uptake of hospitality qualifications has declined. Jill Whittaker explains

It is common knowledge that the hospitality industry is facing a skills shortage, with recent analysis telling us that the sector has a high proportion of ‘hard to fill' positions. To prepare for times ahead and make waves in lessening the skills gap, the industry needs to work together to attract, retain and train talent in order to protect businesses and help grow the sector.

A factor contributing to the skills shortage is the decline in the number of apprenticeship starts, which fell from 28,120 in the year 2016/17 to just 18,560 in the year 2017/18. Fortunately, we are now starting to see an increase since the initial drop.

This drop is especially prevalent among SMEs in the hospitality sector, which require assistance in navigating the bureaucracy involved when offering apprenticeships. This is a major barrier, especially alongside the mounting costs of running a business.

There has also been a change to the number of starts at different levels of apprenticeships. At the end of June 2019, the total number of entry-level apprentice starts in the UK was 132,000, which is just 26% of the total apprenticeship starts at the same level in the year ending July 2016. Entry-level positions are required to attract the younger generation into the hospitality industry – a drop in uptake threatens the growth of the whole sector.

If junior employees don't receive high-quality training, they will be less likely to progress through the ranks or receive job satisfaction, leading to them leaving the industry.

In contrast, advanced, higher and degree-level apprenticeships are proving popular across all industries; nearly 70,000 people have started a degree apprenticeship since August 2018, compared to only 44,000 in the year ending July 2016. We're seeing this increase due to employers looking to offer and retain long-term career paths for established members of their workforce and provide inspiration to the younger generation coming through the ranks.

Although a positive movement, a rise in higher-level qualifications won't solve the industry-wide skills shortage in the long run, as the sector requires a host of different skills at varying levels.

This poses a serious risk to the sector, as employees aren't currently being trained in a number of different skills – they're only being trained to do their current job role. If employees of all levels and positions don't receive high-quality training, they're at risk of changing jobs or leaving the sector all together.

To ensure skills are being developed across the sector and to attract more people into the industry through entry-level qualifications, hospitality businesses need to use their apprenticeship levy funding.

Currently there is £3b of unspent apprenticeship levy funding in the UK and a large proportion of this is within hospitality.

With this funding, skills gaps within businesses can be addressed through a long-term training programme across all levels.

If there are any remaining funds, businesses can consider transferring up to 25% to another company to ensure the money stays within the industry and helps provide a solution to the decrease in entry-level positions in the industry. When you consider that what isn't spent of the apprenticeship levy goes straight back to the government, it would be a missed opportunity to not use this funding to plug the skills gap across the industry.

The bigger picture is that if businesses encourage training and long-term career prospects within hospitality, skilled professionals are more likely to remain within the industry.

With a period of continued economic uncertainty ahead, the hospitality sector needs to look at different solutions to fill the talent pipeline, otherwise we simply won't be able to keep up with consumer demand.

Jill Whittaker is managing director of HIT Training

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