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Engaging with Generation Z

As the skills gap in the hospitality industry continues to widen, Jill Whittaker, Managing Director of HIT Training, urges us to engage with the younger generation and raise awareness of the benefits of a career in the catering sector

It is predicted that between now and 2020 an additional 11,000 chefs will be needed, but with so many operators struggling to find candidates now and with the market continuing to show signs of growth, where are these additional employees going to come from?

The obvious solution? Generation Z – those whose birth years range from the early 2000s to the present.

Two apprentices cooking togetherIndustry must unite and act now

The skills gap and chef crisis are both concepts with which we are all familiar. Every month it seems we are faced with new statistics that highlight the situation in kitchens across the UK. Currently 47% of chef positions are hard to fill, a figure that rises to 66% in London. The result of this is that many operators are struggling to run their businesses effectively.

According to The Skills and Productivity Problem Report 2015 issued by People 1st, 58% of hospitality outlets are less productive compared to other sectors as a direct result of the skills gap; this is something that can very quickly filter down to the customer and impact service quality.

While there are many companies throughout the industry that are making changes to address this issue, more needs to be done to bring fresh talent to the sector on a more permanent basis. Collectively the industry needs to raise awareness of the benefits and opportunities of having a lifelong career in hospitality, rather than it mostly being considered for part-time or summer work. The key word here is longevity – it’s all about future-proofing the sector so that it can continue to grow and innovate.


One of the most effective ways to offer career opportunities to the younger generation is through apprenticeships. Apprenticeships set out a clear training path of learning, development and qualifications, and give learners fixed goals to work towards, helping to keep them engaged.

Events such as National Apprenticeship Week are a great way of raising awareness of apprenticeship opportunities. During the Week this year in March, several companies pledged to offer more apprenticeship programmes. However, engagement strategies cannot just be limited to one week a year. Especially as national research by Not Going to Uni found that 53% of school leavers would not consider doing an apprenticeship.

An apprentice servingSchool leavers

Businesses, key industry figures and current employees all need to work together to engage with school leavers and highlight the career prospects and benefits of working in hospitality.

Although we are starting to see changes that reflect this – such as restaurants opening for only four days a week and operators offering more opportunities for training and development – more still needs to be done to connect with school leavers. As an industry, we have to work together to reach this age group. Operators, for example, could invest time and resources in the following ways:

  • Head chefs can visit local schools to talk about careers in hospitality
  • Hospitality establishments can hold open days to give pupils a behind-the-scenes experience
  • Individual businesses can celebrate the achievements of their apprentices.

Apprentice baking potatoesGovernment Apprenticeship Levy

With the new Government Apprenticeship Levy, which comes into play in 2017, businesses will now have access to funds that have to be spent on training and development. The Levy applies to all UK businesses in the Public and Private Sectors and is payable for companies with an annual pay bill of £3million or more. Employers with an annual pay bill of less than £3million will not have to pay the Levy charges, but they will continue to have access to government funding to support apprenticeships.

At HIT Training, we strongly believe that business owners should take full advantage of the funding made available from the Levy; after all, the payments will be compulsory, so let’s make the most of them. It is also important to ensure that maximum benefits continue to be enjoyed from the funding that operators currently have.

The Levy will bring about changes, not only in the amount of funding available, but also in the way training and development budgets can be used. The changes provide the chance for operators to re-evaluate their apprenticeship programmes, training structures and engagement strategies to ensure that their businesses are seen as aspirational places to work for Generation Z.

In addition to the imminent increase in funding for apprenticeship schemes, the Government has recently abolished National Insurance contributions for apprentices under the age of 25 on a government-funded apprenticeship programme.

As a new cohort of school leavers is currently making big decisions concerning their future careers, the hospitality industry needs to invest in time and resources to ensure that it stands out from the crowd and attracts a new generation of culinary stars. The time to make changes is now, before the risk of an increasing skills shortage becomes a reality.

The Government has abolished National Insurance contributions for apprentices under the age of 25 on a government-funded apprenticeship programme.

HIT Training is the leading provider of training and apprenticeships for the Hospitality Sector. The company offers a wide range of apprenticeships, traineeships, work-based learning programmes and on-going staff development schemes for all levels of staff, as well as supervisory and management roles.

In the past year HIT has delivered over a third of all hotel and catering apprenticeships in England and helped more than 20,000 people gain a qualification, apprenticeship or job.

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