The data is fairly stark. Thanks to a survey from the Office of National Statistics, we know that the number of UK chefs fell by 17% during 2017-18. This comes at a time when the hospitality sector is feeling the squeeze from Brexit, as well as calls for an official qualification to be set up before 2022.
Yet growth is strong, and hospitality owners – as ever – are working with what they have. Pubs, especially, are reacting to these challenges head-on.
We want to highlight what some leaders are doing in response to the skills shortage, and remind you why thinking on your feet is the best way to ride any turbulence in the market.
Yes, the number of chefs is declining. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist – it’s just becoming harder for pubs and restaurants to hire a cook who comes with excellent culinary experience. For years, pub companies and casual dining businesses have been intentionally de-skilling their kitchens. In theory, this enables faster service by less-qualified (cheaper) staff. However, the battle for value for money means that customers are becoming more and more discerning when it comes to eating out – the knock-on effect amplifies the chef shortage as companies are now scrabbling to put the skill back in to their kitchens.
This has forced some hospitality owners to train their staff as they work. College placements and junior chef roles allow people to hone their talents on the job, whilst solidifying retention if the employer pays for their development.
A lot of the time, it’s a question of trust and a willingness to experiment. Apprenticeships help gastro pubs place their own standards on young chefs, so they’re likelier to stay there if they gain a sense of fulfilment and progression.
The shrinking pool of ‘traditional’ senior figures for pubs across the UK has democratised the search for up-and-coming talent. Those who might previously have been ostracised in this sector have the opportunity to prove their worth; there is more room for meritocracy.
In order to attract top talent, the sector must leave traditional biases behind and create a culture of racial, gender and age equality. This, of course, is a very good thing. As performance is closely tracked, the right people can rise to the top – perhaps more so than they’ve done in the past. It’s a case of necessity driving real, lasting change, which doesn’t submit to anything but credit where it’s due.
Bar staff, glass cleaners and chefs are, historically, amongst the most overworked and underpaid workforces in the UK. They’re also affected by staff shortages, which – along with a reliance on tips to cover low wages – further pile on the pressure.
This is being challenged in the current climate. In the same way that cooks are being given more spontaneous training, pub owners know they have to keep people motivated, happy and comfortable – otherwise they will be submerged by the skills deficit.
That’s why we’ve seen the rise of several initiatives. Some businesses are raising their basic pay, whilst others are welcoming their team’s input on their menu or cask ale selections. Area managers may consider a ‘points’ system, rewarding performance with additional holidays or bonuses. The advent of Glassdoor has made employers more accountable and, as ever, the hospitality sector is tight-knit – it’s soon known who the good companies are to work for (and who to avoid). Of course, only the best senior figures can see these through – which makes a middle management search all the more important…
If you’re a potential candidate, or a pub owner in need of progressive thinking, then the drop in high skills shouldn’t be a burden – it should inspire the next stage of your development. Speak to us for advice or senior recruitment services as you move forward into the future of British pubs.