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Over half of workers in the catering and hospitality industry are female (58%) and many of those choose to work in the sector because it offers flexible working options both in terms of temporary, seasonal and part-time positions.
Many also cite the fast pace of the industry as a reason to work in it and the opportunity to meet a greater variety of people in customer-facing roles. Legislation in terms of the National Minimum Wage and the Working Time Directive also ensures that minimum levels of pay and working hours are adhered to.
Like most industries, the credit crunch and economic environment has proved challenging for both employers and employees working in the catering and hospitality industry. Yet despite the downturn businesses are surviving.
According to figures from the British Hospitality Association (BHA), few hotels have actually failed although more restaurants have gone into insolvency – 226 in the third quarter of 2008 compared with 186 in 2007.
The eating-out market has also taken a hit. A survey by accountancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward shows that trading in 2009 was clearly down, with customers eating out less often and spending less when they do so. Nevertheless, one third of businesses believe that there will be growth this year.
The industry remains, however, a key employer. BHA suggests that as many as 1.9m work in the sector although exact numbers are hard to come by. And according to official figures from the Office for National Statistics, the restaurant sector is the largest in terms of employment with 567,600 people.
By the nature of the work, seasonal demands and opportunities to work in a flexible way, the industry in general has a mainly young workforce with latest statistics showing that 15% of workers are aged under 20 years of age with a further 20% aged under 30.
Workers interested in joining the industry would typically expect to work for a small business as the industry is dominated by small to medium-sized enterprises – over 80% employ fewer than 50 people.
There are, of course, opportunities to work for big brand names including McDonalds, Starbucks and Pizza Hut, all of which offer excellent company benefits.
Staff working directly in the restaurants, pubs and fast-food outlets will be expected to work some shifts at the busiest times including evenings, weekends and on public holidays. Some jobs do also entail long hours but the Working Time Directive should be applied in most cases to protect workers from being overworked.
The great thing about working in the catering and hospitality industry is that at the lower levels it isn’t always essential to hold a qualification (one-third of workers either have no qualification at all or have the basic National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level one) and for mums returning to work it can give them the opportunity to get back to work without having to invest in qualifications up front. But be mindful that employers usually look for evidence of basic literacy and numeracy skills.
Many roles require interaction with customers so staff must be able to deal with stress, have great communication skills and enjoy dealing with people. Many mums will be readily equipped with these skills.
It’s also important to remember that many jobs will mean long hours on your feet so be prepared to be physically able and fit. Ability to work as part of a team is another essential trait.
At management level, it’s important to be able to deal with a transient workforce and those that are often on a minimum wage which may, in turn, require the ability to motivate and engage staff.
For those wanting to focus their career in the industry and climb the ladder, qualifications can and do help.
According to the BHA, it is difficult to accurately assess how many students are enrolled in hospitality related courses because the figures are amalgamated with tourism, transport and travel, but the organisation suggests it would be realistic to point to between 1,500 and 2,000 attending.
And bearing in mind, says the BHA, the size of the catering industry, the output of graduates from food and beverage studies courses is remarkably low, declining both in 2006 and 2007. Just under a quarter of workers have a level two NVQ, however, 15% have a level four, and a further 21% have NVQ level three qualifications – a total of nearly 700,000 workers which is the equivalent of 35% of the industry’s workforce.
For those looking to attain a bespoke qualification, a diploma in hospitality, offered at some schools and colleges, could provide a starting point.
Typically much of the training which occurs within the industry is on the job, and many employers offer structured training programmes or apprenticeships. Many people gain work-related qualifications, such as NVQs, or qualifications offered by professional bodies.
Training schemes may be available for graduates starting to work with larger companies. For those working in smaller businesses the opportunities may be more limited although the chance to be exposed quickly to operations may give employees the necessary experience and confidence to start up their own food outlet or hotel.
One of the major developments in the industry has been the introduction of the National Skills Academy for Hospitality, with a board of industry leaders. One of the Academy’s aims is to hone skills for gaps in the market, particularly chefs which tend to be in short supply.
The national minimum wage has regulated salaries within the industry so a basic living wage is expected. Hotel managers may earn anything between £17,000 and £55,000 whilst the wages for chefs vary depending on which hotel they work in, seniority and location. Bar staff may earn between £11,000 and £15,000 per year, for example.
The good news is that according to BHA payroll costs are on a slight upward trend in all sectors of the industry. In London they increased by 0.9%, in England by 1.0% and in Wales by 2.6%. This follows a general upwards trajectory during the last ten years. Increases in the National Minimum Wage have been running ahead of increases in average wages generally.