Toasting success

The
pubs sector has realised that, in the face of growing competition, training can
help bring commercial success. Patrick McCurry raises his glass to the efforts
of the British Institute of Innkeeping

Training
has finally come of age in the pubs sector. Only a few years ago pub managers
may have been able to change a barrel or add up the week’s takings, but were
not required to know about catering, wine selections or marketing.

Now
there is a challenge to old-fashioned drinking dens from more upmarket branded
pubs. Even old-style pubs are being forced by competition and the growing
demands of the public to replace the menu of stale sandwiches and hotpot   and offer decent food, coffee, wine and,
not least, good service.

Recruitment
problems and competition from other leisure activities are forcing licensed
retailers to invest in training and development and create career paths that
can take a bartender to managership of a pub turning over £2m a year.

Spearheading
the changes is the British Institute of Innkeeping, which represents 15,500
pubs, and in February held its 10th National Innkeeping Training Awards.

The
awards are part of a sustained campaign by the BII to raise standards in the
industry and the institute has developed a range of qualifications that are now
recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and can be accepted
in the national qualifications framework.

“Traditionally
the sector has regarded training with some suspicion because they see it as
going back to the classroom, but our message is that training delivers
commercial benefits,” says BII deputy director John Walker.

“There
has been a big change in the High Street in the last few years and pubs must
now compete with multiplex cinemas and other leisure outlets.”

Training
is growing in importance given the increasing complexity of running pubs,
particularly in large city centre premises.

Managing
a pub has also become increasingly big business, with prime sites for brands
like All Bar One and JD Wetherspoon turning over vast sums of money.

The
average JD Wetherspoon pub, for example, turns over £23,000 a week, or £1.15m a
year and that can rise to over £2m for some of the larger pubs.

“These
are major businesses, sometimes with more than a hundred staff and managers
earning £40,000 to £50,000 plus bonuses,” says Walker.

These
managers, often in their 20s and 30s, need to look after recruitment and
retention, marketing, merchandising and much more, he says.

A
key part of the BII’s role is to communicate to young people the career
opportunities in the sector, he says. Until very recently most young people and
their parents viewed pubs as smoky and unhealthy environments where low pay and
long hours reigned.

That’s
all changed, Walker argues. Pay can be good, there’s usually a 48-hour week and
it’s a sector where a young person can move up to management in a short space
of time if they have the ability and ambition.

Of
course, to make the sector attractive to young people a national training
framework is essential. The BII’s training framework began with the national
licensee’s certificate in 1996, which covers knowledge of licensing law and
other responsibilities. This certificate is now required by 70 per cent of
local magistrates before they will grant a licence.

There
are also a series of two to three-day advanced qualifications in areas like
financial management, catering management and wine retail that the institute
has developed. “People can go on a two-day wine sales course and find they
double sales within a few months so they become much more open to the benefits
of training,” says Walker.

The
institute does not carry out training but is an awarding body. In February it
announced that it would be admitting trainers by creating a new category of
membership. John Melia, business development manager, says he hopes this new
membership category for trainers will further raise the profile of training and
development in the sector.

In
the past training has been informal and amateurish, says Melia. “We hope that
BII membership will lead to continuous professional development of trainers and
that it will give them a boost in making the business case for training.”

BII
director Mary Curnock Cook says, “Five years ago there was really only one official
qualification in the sector and that was NVQs, but last year we awarded nearly
60,000 qualifications and have now been given accreditation status by the
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.”

She
adds that the sector needs to have credible qualifications, “If we don’t have a
professional structure, we won’t be able to attract the right people into the
sector.”

Chain
adds fizz with coaching

Winner
of the BII award for best overall training programme for managed estates, JD Wetherspoon
has no choice but to train to keep up with its ambitious growth plans.

It
has nearly 500 pubs but is expanding at the rate of 100 a year and needs to
ensure it has enough managers in place, says HR director Su Beecham.

Its
award was for its scheme for shift managers training to be pub managers.

A
thousand people go through the course, which lasts 14  months, each year. Just over half are former Wetherspoon bar
staff and the rest are from outside the company.

“They’re
from a variety of backgrounds and we’ve had hairdressers, taxi drivers and even
a professional footballer,” says Beecham.

Training
includes practical courses in running the bar and catering combined with
supported on-the-job learning.

“We’re
constantly updating the course and have recently expanded the areas on
employment law and IT, as all our pubs are computer linked,” she says.

The
programme is linked to BII qualifications, such as the national licensee certificate
and the advanced qualifications. “They’re a big part of our programme and we’ve
helped the BII in the design of their qualifications,” says Beecham.

She
says, “When people ask me how I know the training is working I point to the
growing profits, up 37 per cent last year, and the expansion of the company. In
a declining market our pubs are becoming more and more profitable.”

Beecham
adds that the fact that more than half the people on the programme have been
promoted internally shows that staff are impressed by the company’s commitment
to training.

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