There are many issues relating to the skills gap that the next government needs to address, says Jason Benn, hospitality & catering industries manager at City & Guilds
High staff turnover has been a longstanding issue in the industry and this shows no sign of abating. That's why it matters that the next government maintains the commitment to expanding access to quality apprenticeships. These offer the industry a great opportunity to develop new and existing employees, and with a greater range of occupational standards now available, training and development like this is also key to retaining the current workforce.
But efforts to address skills gaps in the sector need to go further. Young people need to be engaged at an early age to develop an interest in the wide range of training and job opportunities the sector can offer. I often see hospitality and catering promoted as a chef's qualification, with students unaware of the range of possibilities. And having taught in both a high school and at further education level, I have witnessed first-hand the value of engaging learners as young as Key Stage 3 as they begin to consider their career paths. Government must take a more active role in ensuring the promotion of vocational qualifications in every school's careers advice provision. We've seen steps in the right direction, but it's vital that ministers do not lose momentum.
That said, the sector itself must also work harder to promote these career opportunities. There are fantastic examples of this out there already - for example, last year's FutureChef competition hosted by Springboard, which attracted 9,000 young competitors. We should be exploring opportunities to extend this to wider sector activity, such as front-of-house roles like barista art, mocktail-making and table service.
If these existing challenges weren't enough, Brexit poses a significant threat to employment in the sector. EU nationals make up approximately 75% of the workforce for waiters and waitresses. Recent proposals to mitigate potential staffing problems include the introduction of a 'barista visa', but the scope of the potential skills shortage spreads far wider than this would address. This must be on the next prime minister's to do list.
Ultimately, the key for growth is to highlight the diversity of the industry and the dynamic job opportunities that exist, in order to grow a skilled workforce at home. This will take time, but with Brexit around the corner, the government must set out in more detail how it will tackle these issues in the short and medium term to secure the future of the catering and hospitality industry. There's too much at stake for them to overlook this.