The long-term future of any industry hinges on the calibre of new talent coming through, and as far as the catering equipment sector goes that area has always been a little foggy.
Many senior figures from the industry have expressed concerns over the past 18 months that there is a dearth of enthusiastic young trainees taking their first steps on the ladder.
One of the problems for this sector is that while it falls under the mantle of hospitality and foodservice, employment-hungry school- or college-leavers are far more likely to want to be chefs or work in front-of-house roles that are perceived to be more glamorous and accessible than anything associated with designing or selling kitchen equipment.
There are several reasons for this, in my opinion. Firstly, up to now there has been no obvious vocational qualification that would endear youngsters to the industry or offer them a clear career path.
Secondly, the industry probably hasn’t done a great job of promoting or positioning itself to that audience.
And thirdly, the industry just hasn’t appeared appealing enough, though arguably this point is resolvable if you get number two right.
I’ve come across a lot of people in this industry who work in it because of family ties or because they have fallen into it almost by accident, yet the one enduring factor is that once they are in it they rarely leave it! That in itself is a great advert for the industry at a time when few occupations can guarantee job stability or satisfaction these days.
A government-led review into the employment of apprentices last year recommended that trade associations should play a bigger role in the promotion of apprenticeships.
And some notably positive steps were taken in that regard last month after trade bodies CESA, CEDA and the FCSI, in collaboration with the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), came together to pledge their commitment to securing up to 75 apprenticeships among their small and medium sized members.
While it’s an ambitious target that will take a lot of doing to achieve over the next 12 months, nobody can argue that it is not a step in the right direction. Research from the Centre for Economics suggests that the average apprentice increases business productivity by £214 per week.
A survey of CEDA, CESA and FCSI members found that while around 30% of respondents already employ apprentices, more than 50% would be “willing to do so” and a further 33% would “consider” it. Grants of £1,500 per apprentice available to companies taking on 16-24-year-old workers certainly provide added incentive.
There are many examples of catering equipment companies who have had nothing but positive experiences with apprentices.
With the industry’s most prominent trade bodies getting behind the cause, hopefully more will follow suit.