Ou sont tous les chefs? Is the skills shortage just a UK issue?

By Olivia Gautier, Les Orangeries

Sometimes it’s just not possible to see the full picture if you stand too close. You have to step back a bit to avoid losing perspective. Without wanting to start a political argument, believe me when I say that I will be very sad when the UK leaves the EU next year. But, while it may well be one factor that is contributing to the staff and skills shortage in the hospitality sector, don’t believe that Brexit is the single biggest reason why restaurants across the Channel struggle to find good quality people to come and work for them.

At a meeting of fellow restaurant and hotel owners in my region here in Nouvelle Aquitaine it was the main topic of conversation – how do we attract young people to come and work in our businesses?

I am the only business I know of in the industry that is completely transparent when it comes to wages and pays their team every minute of every hour they work. For me, it’s the right thing to do and means that the staff I do have are loyal and motivated. But, changing perceptions about life and work/life balance have made recruitment so hard. Attracted by higher wages, responsibilities and promises of a different lifestyle, thousands of young French people are lured away to maybe Switzerland or further afield – the Middle East or East Asia.

The historic reputation of an industry, particularly in the kitchen, rife with bullying and violence, is another factor in young people’s decision making when considering a career, especially for women. Perhaps even more significant are the hours. Who wants to be at work at midnight on a Friday or Saturday night when they could be out with friends or at home with their family? It’s something we in the industry take for granted, but for an outsider?

For a restaurant like ours on the edge of a small town in rural western France we don’t have the luxury of being able to employ two teams either, that means the dreaded split-shift – surely another disincentive for anyone contemplating a career in hospitality? We have a structural problem which inevitably has an even greater impact on small businesses away from the big cities that will always have a greater lure for most.

What we can do is provide people a fantastic environment in which to learn, to work with incredible local producers and to acquire skills and build a reputation. I am utterly convinced that by sticking to our principles of treating people well and paying them what their skills and commitment deserve we will reverse this worrying trend, in time.

While the skills shortage continues we have to be creative too. Where can we go to find new streams of potential employees? I believe that socially inclusive recruitment, providing working opportunities for people who are otherwise marginalised can be a big part of the solution. Restaurants like Kai in Ireland have shown the benefits of giving an opportunity to Syrian refugees for example. Charities like The Clink in England have helped dozens of former prisoners build a new life, providing them with the skills to find work and build a life on the outside.

While Brexit may well not be helping restaurants in the UK fill their vacancies, it appears as though there are more deep-rooted, continent-wide issues. By promoting the best of the industry – to all –  we can help to rebuild its reputation as a fantastic career on both sides of La Manche.


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