With the nation’s hospitality sector facing an unprecedented recruitment crisis, Nick Mosley reveals a new local initiative to champion careers and celebrate the contribution of young people to restaurants, bars, hotels and food and drink production in Sussex.
It seems hardly a day goes by without a new story in the media about how desperate the wider food and drink industry are for new staff and the problems they are facing in terms of retaining existing employees.
The dual impacts of Covid and Brexit have combined to create the perfect storm, with no foreseeable end in sight for many employers.
Hospitality – alongside manual work in the food industry such as fruit picking and butchery – has long been seen by many young Britons as a temporary stop-gap job at best or a career that is simply beneath their aspirations. Hence the importance of EU workers, many of whom have returned to the security of their own countries and are unlikely to return with the new immigration visa controls now in place between the UK and rest of Europe.
For those who have remained in the UK, hospitality was one of the first sectors to be affected by lockdown – and one of the last to be fully released – so many of those previously employed in hospitality have moved to more stable careers to avoid the potential risk and uncertainty of being laid off or put onto furlough again.
James Thomson, co-owner of Wild Flor in Hove, is hugely concerned about the employment situation within his own restaurant business.
“There’s not only a giant hole created by workers who have left the country and can't return but a disillusionment from those who have remained. People are leaving the industry every day”.
“We can’t find either the quantity nor quality of staff we require for positions available at Wild Flor”, continued James.
“The narrative needs to change now. National government needs to reverse the ‘unskilled’ visa classification which will allow for overseas workers to return as soon as possible. And government, colleges and funded associations need to put their hands in their pockets and support the industry”.
Looking at the national picture the entire UK food and drink supply chain is increasingly at risk. The Road Haulage Association estimates the need for 100,000 new HGV and delivery drivers to ensure the continued flow of fresh and frozen food to restaurants and retailers. In the meantime, restaurateurs are reducing their operating hours due to lack of staff and British farmers are struggling to harvest seasonal crops.
Much needs to be done to raise the profile of food and drink related careers. One new initiative supported by industry professionals and businesses from across the county is the Bite Sussex Rising Star Awards which launched last week at www.sussexrisingstars.com. The awards are jointly presented by the Sussex branch of the Institute of Hospitality and Bite Sussex.
“It became increasingly clear to us and our colleagues that recruitment would be a huge issue as we moved out of lockdown”, said Nathalie Gomez de Vera, co-organiser of the awards.
“We thought ‘what can we do practically to raise the profile of hospitality careers’ so came up with a county-wide awards scheme that recognises the contribution of those under 26 years old”.
Consumers, colleagues, friends, family and employers can nominate young people working in hospitality and food and drink production across any of nine award categories ranging from chefs and farmers through to wine makers and bartenders.
“We’ve ensured all areas of Sussex food and drink are covered by the awards”, said Nathalie.
“Including ‘hidden heroes’ who work behind the scenes in areas such as housekeeping and maintenance. Their efforts are essential in keeping the wheels of the industry turning”.
Mark Ashton FIH, a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality and Senior Teaching Fellow and Deputy Director of Learning and Teaching at the University of Surrey's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said:
“As an educator in a university with a global reputation for producing some of the finest hospitality professionals, I am fully supportive of the Bite Sussex Rising Stars Awards. Recognition early in the careers of our future hospitality stars, managers and leaders for a job well done, can only motivate and inspire them. This is particularly important when young, talented people have spent time and effort completing their hospitality degrees so that they can experience a sense of real accomplishment and shine in an industry as vital as any other".
"The Bite Sussex Rising Star Awards also recognise excellence in the sheer variety of exciting job roles and functions found in the broad church that is hospitality, giving both front and back of house and, indeed, the supply chain, equal due. The valuable knowledge and skillsets the successful nominees will have demonstrated speaks well too for the quality and standards of hospitality education and work experience today. As a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality, the leading international professional body for our great industry, I fully encourage young and ambitious professionals to nominate themselves or deserving colleagues for these awards, and also to join the Institute. Both will enhance your careers."
The awards are chaired by Sir Peter Field KCVO KstJ JP, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for East Sussex, and supported by judges from The Argus, BBC Sussex, Brighton Palace Pier, Latest TV, Brighton Business Improvement District and Wine GB alongside respected chef and hotel professionals. Nominations are now open at www.sussexrisingstars.com.