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Is it time for hospitality to consider new avenues when hiring?

Words by Tom Billingham

In last month’s article, we gave our thoughts on what has led to the current staffing issues in hospitality. It’s vital we analyse how we got to this point, but we have to move forward and begin building foundations to come back stronger. 

We’re not saying that this article will offer one solution to the vacancy issues throughout the hospitality industry, but it could be a gentle nudge in an unfamiliar direction.

Is Talent based on the individual’s skill or ability to carry out the role in an efficient, professional and timely manner? Or do we see talent as someone’s enthusiasm, passion and eagerness to learn? If creating the perfect storm we’d be hopeful of ticking as many of these boxes, and of course, all of this needs to be coupled with the culture of the team and ethos of the company. Talent is traditionally defined as natural aptitude or skill, so this tells us that surely talent can be in the eye of the beholder.

If we continue to search for people to join our business from within the same pool then eventually said pool will become stagnant and ultimately this pool will run dry. This creates a fastest finger first scenario, where everybody scrambles for the most active, suitable talent on the market, creating broken processes, rushed interviews and potentially shaky hires. So, if repeating the same scenario isn’t working, then what else can we do and where else can we look; how do we categorise talent and create these talent pools or use alternative measures to bring through new exciting prospects?

We recently visited London for a client meeting and sat at a restaurant near Tower Bridge. Whilst waiting for the client to arrive, we glanced through the menu and discovered that the restaurant was created by the Beyond Food Foundation. The business employs and trains individuals who have been homeless in the past. The initiative is designed to support people into work-based apprenticeships, obtaining qualifications with unique on-the-job training. 

 Our visit got us thinking about others who are on a similar mission and this led us to Clink*, a charity training prisoners over a period of 6 – 18 months for front and back-of-house careers in hospitality leading to true career prospects. The trainees work towards gaining their City & Guilds National Vocational Qualifications and some have found placements at restaurants such as Hawksmoor and Wahaca. We caught up with Clink, Chief Executive, Christopher Moore to find out more about the trainees. 

 We started off by asking what the misconceptions of employing an ex-offender are “The majority of us are unaware what a prisoner looks like. The fact of the matter is that the prison population is a cross-section of society with people just like you and me. Once our employers come into prison and dine with us and realise that these men and women are highly trained and just like the rest of their workforce, they take them on. If we were in prison and had worked hard to turn our lives around we would want someone to give us a second chance.

In reality, you will know far more about The Clink graduate you are employing as with their permission, they will tell you what they did wrong and we can tell you how they have behaved 24hrs a day, 7 days a week for the last 6 to 18 months. So you will know everything about this person and a lot more than if you were to employ someone where you would know the name, start and finish date, job title and salary from my last employer.”

When we asked Christopher about some of Clink’s success stories he told us “We have many, from Ross who joined the Royal Navy as a steward to Kevin who worked at a private members club and ended up on Bake-Off the Professional,  Dean now a head chef of a Cardiff 4 star hotel and now employs Clink graduates and Libby who has a gastropub in Liverpool that’s not only been No 1 on TripAdvisor in her area but she also won Merseyside businesswoman of the year.”

As you’d expect, with success stories like this, it’s not surprising that over the last few weeks, Clink has been inundated with calls from caterers looking for qualified staff. 

Another charity, Sifa Fireside** in Birmingham, is one that is close to our heart. The team provides sustainable routes out of homelessness and enables people to get into work. We reached out to their Fundraising Manager, Melissa Roche to find out more about their work. 

Melissa explains to us that they run a weekly job club called Future Steps where clients get help not just with CV writing and interview techniques, but IT support, bus fares and they even provide them with suits for interviews. She adds that they can also help with specific job qualifications such as Food Hygiene Certificates. 

When we ask about how many successful placements Sifa has made, Melissa reveals there have been many. There’s one business in particular that have received three clients from the charity, all of whom were once homeless. Melissa doesn’t gloss over the fact it’s challenging and not every single placement is a success, but we discuss that when you employ anyone there’s a chance that things won’t work out. However, the advantage of working with charities like Clink and Sifa is that they really get to know their client’s, and this is a huge plus to any potential employer. Melissa adds “the support is ongoing because of course there’s a chance there’ll be dips in the road, but we work hand-in-hand with the employer”. 

We end our conversation asking if there is a particularly memorable placement the team at Sifa has made. “Yes!” she says. She goes on to tell us about a gentleman who escaped modern slavery in Birmingham. “he was exploited and was being held against his will”. However, after working with the team at Sifa was eventually in a position to be integrated into the workplace. Melissa continues “he has been with the employer for five years now, has worked really hard and is now in a management position”.

It’s easy for a recruitment company to sit here and advise businesses to invest in employing people who may not have all the skills or someone that hasn’t come from a direct competitor or even suggest more radical employment strategies but if the attitude and desire is there and you feel this person could add value to your business, then surely it’s worth taking a chance. The reward could be an employee who is loyal and hardworking. It sure beats waiting for the “perfect” candidate to end up in your inbox. 

 We had an interesting conversation with a General Manager in Staffordshire, who revealed to us he is now looking at candidates transferable skills. He went on to tell us how he had employed an individual from a retail background who had an infectious personality, was extremely customer focused and had a real willingness to learn. Clearly, there’s a skill gap and it will take time, effort and patience for the employee to get up to speed, but if the sector adjusts its mindset and starts looking at interchangeable skills, we may begin to see better results.

It’s the lack of strength and depth (excuse the football-related term) that’s a worry for many of our clients and operators in the current marketplace. A recent Timewise Report, a campaign group for part-time workers, stated that part-time work has dropped to its lowest level since 2010. This created a conversation amongst the team about the importance and strengths of having a solid part-time workforce. “Timewise warned that only 8% of vacancies offer part-time options, saying some felt they were “clinging on to jobs that will disappear”. 

 It is clear that flexible working is being embraced throughout all sectors, with more home working than ever and flexi-hours being offered. Timewise wrote, “that change has to be systemic, with policymakers and employers all playing a role, and all forms of flexible work considered”. It’s our assessment that it’s not often senior roles are carried out in a part-time capacity, but with shared responsibilities and a review of team strengths and capabilities, this could well be an option. Creating this culture and new way of working would require communicating to the team, asking their opinions and leading a collaborative approach to recruitment. It’s possible to gauge your team’s understanding of the struggles and requirements and they may offer insight to support the process.

There has to be a point when we dig deep to find innovative ways to attract people to the sector, consider new talent pools, learn from previous mistakes and move forward. The last year has given us all an opportunity to reset so let’s see this as the perfect opportunity to build back better. 

*If you’d like to find out more about working with Clink, go to theclinkcharity.org to see if
they operate in your area.

** Sifa Fireside is a local Birmingham based charity working with homeless and vulnerable
people, if you are interested in supporting them with training or employment
opportunities go to https://www.sifafireside.co.uk/