How to become ‘Employer of Choice’ for local Hospitality Teachers (and help solve your staff shortage)

Short of young staff? Hospitality is a very popular subject in secondary schools, and there are many students looking for opportunities. Here’s how to make the right connections:

  • Get to know the careers counsellor and the hospitality teachers. the counsellor works with every school student on their career and training plans and is keen to meet local business operators who have genuine opportunities. Once they know you are honest and fair, they can often give you the ‘inside running’ on the best students.
  • Offer to be a guest speaker for hospitality students. Think of it as a Q&A session rather than a prepared speech – it’s less nerve-wracking. Take one of your young staff along, or send the chef along to help a teacher with the dessert class, meat preparation or knife skills. Or your sharp barista to give the finer points on speedy latte production.
  • Sponsor an Award for School Speech Day. There are usually ‘Best Student’ awards for most subjects. Why not sponsor one with a Gift Voucher for the local kitchen supply shop? Knives and kit are always needed. Add some fun with a restaurant voucher for them to come and visit with their family. This is a lot more exciting for students than the dusty History Prize! If the school is hesitant about private sponsorship, organise it through the local Chamber of Commerce, who should be involved anyway.
  • Sponsor a school activity. You may be asked to help with excursion costs or sporting equipment, but focus on events that lead straight back to your business. The sponsorship may not be money, but it could be a celebration coffee back at the café. You may also hear of kitchen equipment that the school needs. Sometimes they’re well-equipped with heavy stoves and refrigeration, but missing out on utensils or a food- processor. The parent association is another group looking for support, and your donation of a dinner prize for the raffle or coupon book will be much appreciated.
  • Create a cookery or coffee event for the school. Put on a cooking show, and make it more than just fancy pans and flames.
  • Focus on nutrition, food safety and safe work practices to help teachers cover those essential parts of the curriculum.
  • Run a barista workshop at your cafe. With growing chef shortages, we have to do everything possible to show cooking is a fun and attractive career. Jamie Oliver has done great work with young students turning around their perceptions of ‘healthy food’. Watch his short videos, in which he shows students exactly what is in chicken nuggets. It’s a good format for how to do an engaging cooking demonstration in a short time (alhtough it’s not about cooking as a career).
  • Help students with an assessment event. Find out what dishes students must master for their assessment, and bring your insights to their preparation. Include a discussion of how you manage temperature, storage and quality. Recruit some student assistants and leave them with a souvenir for helping – a fun certificate or the restaurant’s postcard, cap or t-shirt.
  • Remember, schools have changed. Education is now more focused on career skills, and students are much more ‘worldly’ and assertive. They may be asking you things you’d never have discussed back when you were at school, and the language may be as colourful as in your kitchen! Relax, and be guided by the teacher on what’s OK and what’s not.
  • There’s a strong emphasis on protecting students – it’s part of modern work training. You may even be asked to obtain a ‘working with children’ clearance if you will be dealing with students over a period. Don’t be offended – schools are required to be very vigilant about keeping predators away – you see the news.
  • Relationships in action. Michael Fischer built up long-term relationships with schools in Parramatta, Australia, when he had Barnaby’s Restaurant. After building bridges with schools and developing trust, he was able to be more insistent that the students sent along for work experience were those genuinely interested in hospitality as a career, not just a soft option for school. He had many of these students continue on as apprentices and floor staff. Word gets back to teachers and other students if the workplace is fair and the opportunities are worthwhile. It was not only hospitality ‘lifers’ that he needed, but people to work weekends and regular casual shifts. Maybe they are training to be an engineer, but during the four years of their course, if they work for you most weekends and holidays, that’s long-term employment in this industry!
  • Is this all worth the effort? We all prefer to do business with someone we know and trust, and it grows over time. As you build the relationship with principals, teachers and students, you are the natural recommendation to the best students who want a career in hospitality. In a labour market with fewer and fewer choices, here’s to your unfair advantage!