The hospitality industry has had an incredibly tough year. First, the initial lockdown, during which pubs, restaurants and cafés were forced to close except for takeaway. Then, a summer reopening with reduced capacities and low customer confidence, offset slightly by the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Now, with coronavirus cases surging once more, new measures including face masks inside, the rule of six and the much derided 10pm curfew threaten to challenge businesses further.
There are fears of a vast swathe of job losses, whether now, in six months (when the recent financial support measures are due to run out), or after that. As many as 900,000 hospitality jobs are at risk, experts warn. For an industry with 3.2 million jobs overall (Britain’s third largest sector), and counting for eight per cent of the UK’s GDP pre-Covid-19, the consequences could be mammoth.
In response, its main bodies are joining forces for the very first time to launch a new platform – CareerScope – which aims to support struggling hospitality staff as well as anybody looking to find work in the sector. “I’ve been in the industry for an extremely long time and I cannot recollect a harder year,” says Alastair Storey, chairman of Springboard, a charity that supports young people to launch their careers and one of the organisations (along with the Institute of Hospitality, UKHospitality, Hospitality Action and the Savoy Educational Trust) involved.
“Historically, we haven’t always worked as one,” says Storey. “This is really the first time the industry has said, ‘We’ve got a real crisis, we need to act properly, we need to make sure we’re giving people the best support we can.' It won’t solve every problem, it won’t create jobs that don’t exist. But it will help people to navigate some pretty difficult waters.”
In the past, it wasn't always clear who to turn to for help. The five organisations hope CareerScope will streamline the process: if someone is after a training programme, they may be directed to Springboard; if it’s counselling or financial advice that is needed, Hospitality Action is the port of call. People can be connected with available jobs in their area.
Big-name chefs including Clare Smyth, Michel Roux Jr, Paul Ainsworth, Richard Corrigan and Raymond Blanc have backed the initiative. “It’s never been more important to look after our people, and ensure they are happy, healthy and ready for work,” says Roux, who insists that hospitality must still be seen as a viable career for young people. “This is a great initiative and shows that, even when the industry is going through its toughest period, we really care about our people.”
Smyth agrees that such support has long been needed. “We were facing a staffing crisis before Covid-19. We need to take drastic action to ensure there is the next generation of chefs coming through when the industry recovers. CareerScope is a great initiative to help those who’ve lost their jobs get back on their feet and give them the skills and support to relaunch their career.”
Though Storey acknowledges that financial support measures such as the furlough scheme, VAT reductions and tax deferrals have kept businesses afloat and people in jobs, he fears it won’t prevent mass job losses. “We are really, really distressed about what’s happening to our people,” he says. “We’ll do the maximum we can, to be part of the solution.
“I adore this industry, I’ve been in it for over 40 years,” he adds, arguing that the human case for saving hospitality is as vital as the economic one. “We’re social animals, we don’t want to be locked away. We’ve gone to so much effort to make places safe, it’s disappointing when you can’t have them open. People need a social life, we must not lose sight of that. It’s about making people happy and giving them those moments of pleasure.”