I was delighted to hold a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference asking: “How can levelling up be achieved through the hospitality sector?”. I was joined by John Stevenson MP, Member of Parliament for Carlisle since 2010 and prominent member of the Northern Research Group; Lord Bilimoria, an entrepreneur, life peer in the House of Lords and Founder of Cobra Beer; Rt Hon Justine Greening, former Education Secretary and social mobility advocate; and Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality, trade body for the UK’s vital hospitality industry.
It was a fascinating discussion and great to hear the panel in agreement that investment in skills presents the best opportunity for the industry to recover post-pandemic. The need for localised solutions and rebuilding confidence in the sector were also discussed. As the sector looks at how it can recover from the impact of COVID-19, one of the advantages the hospitality industry presents, is the ability for anyone to be able to join and secure that precious first rung on the ladder. There are opportunities to learn on the job and build careers, whatever level or age you join. Other advantages include access to flexible working.
Compass Group UK & Ireland already invests heavily in apprenticeships and has had great success with the Kickstart scheme, with a commitment to support 500 “Kickstarters” in the coming months. However, we know we can do more. We need to address the skills shortage the sector is facing now, and we are calling for the Government to grant emergency powers to unleash the apprenticeship levy and change its criteria. If we had more flexibility around how the levy could be used, that would unlock millions of pounds of investment back into training and development in our company alone – think of the hundreds of millions that could be released within this sector and the impact this could have.
There was a lot of discussion around whether now is the time for wage increases. We are an advocate for the Real Living Wage and its important jobs in the hospitality sector are valued. The Government itself can lead the way, by reviewing its supply chain and ensuring living wage is being paid. However, while the recovery for hospitality remains fragile, the quality of the job remains key, and if our industry wants to attract the best people with great potential we need to be reminding people of why hospitality is such a great place to work and grow a career.
I am hugely proud of our frontline teams and all that they achieved in recent months to support the country as it’s dealt with the pandemic – whether in a hospital, education, defence, workplace and more recently sports and hospitality settings, our people have gone above and beyond. As we rebuild, we need to be focused on every job being a good job and showcasing how hospitality can provide great career opportunities for anyone – regardless of background or education. I can think of no greater example of levelling up.