Looking round the room at catering equipment industry events, it has to be said there is a propensity towards a more ‘grey haired’ demographic, in terms of the attendees, and this seems to be a trend in the sector at large.
While of course the experience of more senior executives is invaluable, when it comprises the vast majority of employers and employees in a business, it may stifle new ideas which a new generation could bring to the table.
However, there does seem to be a pan-industry drive to redress the balance, with initiatives such as apprenticeship schemes springing up all over the country. One distributor involved in these is Bristol-based Tailor Made Catering Equipment Solutions.
The dealer is working with South Gloucestershire and Stroud College to help it to fill new apprenticeship positions. “We approached the college and it was so easy,” said Tailor Made’s MD, Jim Stevens. “They even advertise the positions on their notice boards for you.”
The company has taken on five apprentices over the last 18 months (three in the field and two in its offices), and is looking for a further hire in the service department. “It has become a lot easier to find apprentices,” Stevens commented. “The bureaucracy has been reduced and there have been some government incentives introduced.”
He believes fresh blood is needed in the industry, especially when many are retiring. “At the moment, catering equipment doesn’t seem to be attractive to young people, but it can be a fun industry. We need to raise the profile and make people aware of what we do, so we have to collectively take a bigger approach – industry bodies especially can help us with this,” he said.
He believes that companies can benefit from bringing young talent through the ranks as: “Older personnel haven’t got all the answers – for instance with technology and social media, our younger staff have come in and showed us what we should be doing; they instinctively understand it.
“Our apprentices are really enthusiastic, and because we have taken on several at the same time, it’s created a really nice atmosphere in our company.” He suggested that taking on more than one simultaneously means they can support each other, and that trying them out in different departments enables them to see what suits them best.
Stevens’ experience with apprentices so far is that once they get over their initial shyness and uncertainty, “you can train them how you need to train them, and that’s a big advantage”. Recommending recruiting apprentices around 18-20 years old, he said that potential engineers can be gas safe qualified within 12 months, depending on their previous experience. [[page-break]]
“There’s a general shortage of good engineers on the road, and as an industry we need to up our game because end users are so demanding regarding after sales service. Whether it’s from us or the suppliers, we need to provide around the clock support and hiring new young people can help us all do that.”
This is a view shared by Glenn Danks, UK manager at cooking and warewashing equipment manufacturer, Blue Seal. “I’d certainly encourage people to take on apprentices, especially on the service side, as with restaurants operating ever longer opening hours it may get to the point that technicians can only work on the equipment at night, because that’s the only chance to get into the kitchen. If we need to expand our service department, it will be a good opportunity to get young people on board.”
However, outside apprenticeship schemes, he cautioned that companies have to walk a fine line between supporting the recruitment of younger staff and being seen to be ageist. “This can make it difficult to find young people, but we need to encourage them, as the percentage of people even under 40 in this industry is low. Also, people tend to move from company to company within the sector, so there are very few new people entering,” he believes.
“Blue Seal doesn’t employ many people in the UK, but we will be looking at the apprentice route again in the future when our older members of staff retire,” he added. “When we have tried to hire apprentices in the past we have not found it easy; it is challenging to find people with the right work ethic.”
Nevertheless, he feels that the industry and its associations are now pushing in the right direction, especially with training schemes such as the CFSP, but that to refresh a workforce is a slow process.
Jon Urquhart, the owner of supplier, Boss Contract Furniture, has also noticed that the demographic of the industry is ageing. “There are fewer and fewer visible young people each year,” he said. “We have to attract the youngsters.
“I have been in this industry for 40 years and I find it fun and friendly. We have to show young people that they can have fun and be rewarded for it. However, this sector is renowned for low pay and salaries. There have to be some incentives to get them aboard.”
Although it is a small firm, Boss recruits young workers wherever possible during the summer holidays to help with its team. “We were looking to take on a new young person and have found it difficult by word of mouth,” explained Urquhart. “But a chance conversation with my friend’s son will result in him starting with us in the New Year.”
He concluded: “Experience is what most look for, but this can be negative if that person is not adaptable. A youngster, if motivated, is ready to soak up your knowledge and put a different ‘slant’ on it.”