The Big Conversation: Industry event highlights importance of young people in hospitality

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Hotel, United kingdom, Chief executive, London, Uk

The Big Conversation saw hospitality industry leaders unite to discuss what they're doing to help support apprentices, youth unemployment and structured work placements
The Big Conversation saw hospitality industry leaders unite to discuss what they're doing to help support apprentices, youth unemployment and structured work placements
A joint initiative between Business in the Community (BitC), the British Hospitality Association (BHA) and Springboard today brought together an array of hospitality industry leaders with young people to stimulate a dialogue on employability skills, work experience and apprenticeships.

The inaugural ‘Big Conversation’, held this morning at The Royal Horseguards Hotel in London, saw leading figures from hotels, restaurants and pubs across the country taking part in table discussions with young people to find out how to better support apprentices, tackle youth unemployment and structure work experience placements more effectively.

The event is the brainchild of Patrick Dempsey, managing director of the Whitbread Group, who announced the commitment to provide 20,000 structured work placements and 10,000 apprenticeships at last month’s Hospitality and Tourism Summit.​The Big Conversation had the support of some 50 leading companies in the industry, including Guoman, Compass and ISS.

With the UK’s youth unemployment at its highest rate for decades,​BHA chief executive Ufi Ibrahim summarised The Big Conversation in her talk, entitled ‘Call for Action’, by insisting there is still a wealth of talent and potential waiting to be snapped up by hospitality businesses, and that the industry has the resources and financial clout strong enough to help re-balance the economy.

“One of the things that our industry offers is hope,” said Ibrahim. “Even during a sluggish economy as we have today, our industry is the one which is offering opportunities; we are always employing. We can create jobs for the young people of Britain while other industries are not able to do so.

“Our hospitality industry employs 2.4m people, which positions us as the fifth largest employer in the country. What differentiates hospitality from other industries is that we’re not just all about London or the financial services. This sector is unique in the fact that it generates employment across every region of the UK.

“But sometimes you can embark on journeys with good intentions and they actually can be rather short lived, if you do not immediately capture that momentum and ensure that you maximise the returns - as we are committed to doing here with The Big Conversation.”

Spread the message

Ibrahim went on to point out that it should be made the responsibility of every single hospitality business in the country to offer work placements or apprenticeship schemes and help to allow more young people break into the industry.

“There are about 200,000 hospitality businesses in the UK. If each one of us took just one person on-board, we’d meet our target. How difficult can that be?

“As the chief executive of the BHA, I hereby pledge that we will continue to champion this message across the industry.

“We will support every sector-specific industry conversation like this and we want to spread the message across the nation, to make sure that every one of those 200,000 businesses can take on a person.

“If we can do that, I think that the Government will have no choice but to recognise that this industry is absolutely committed to making an economic impact on UK PLC.”

Other industry figures speaking at The Big Conversation included Dempsey of Whitbread; Anne Pierce, chief executive of the Springboard charity and Jan Marshall of Marriott Hotels.

Giving the welcoming and closing speeches was 18-year-old Luke Thomas,​who after winning Springboard’s Future Chef competition in 2009 went on to become chef-patron at Mark Fuller’s Sanctum on the Green restaurant earlier this year.

Hospitality pledges 

With the news earlier this year that the Government is to inject £1bn of funding into a new scheme to tackle youth unemployment​and get 160,000 18 to 24-year-olds into work over the next four years, a number of major hospitality businesses, some of which were in attendance at today’s Big Conversation, are already running their own initiatives: -

Work experience & apprenticeships

Other discussions which took place at The Big Conversation involved the importance of work experience, an insight into hospitality apprenticeships and a panel discussion with unemployed young people.

Also in the spotlight was Springboard’s INSPIRE initiative, which aims to secure 5,000 work experience opportunities in 2012 and a further 15,000 by the end of 2013 by getting organisations to pledge commitment to prioritise local young unemployed people for job opportunities.

It was later announced that next year’s Big Conversation will be the central theme of the second British Hospitality and Tourism Summit, which will take place on the 11 June 2013.

As Ibrahim concluded: “Hospitality businesses can take individuals with raw talent and potential and provide them with all of the training required to create future stars.

“We will amplify this message so loud so that no government or media can ignore it.”

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