Recruitment during Covid: how fine food shops can attract employees

17 June 2021, 08:57 AM
  • Retail and hospitality recruitment are growing as the easing of lockdown restrictions continues. But with growing vacancies and shrinking applicants, finding the right fit can be a challenge
Recruitment during Covid: how fine food shops can attract employees

Despite the recent four-week delay to the end of lockdown, the reopening of the economy over the last few months has caused a boom in demand for shop workers and hospitality staff.

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the UK gained 1,000 retail jobs in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 2020, after hitting a post-pandemic high in April. Meanwhile, for accommodation and food services, quarterly job vacancies from March to May 2021 grew by 265.5%.

Further research from job boards network Broadbean Technology said hospitality jobs in May were up 34% from April, while vacancies in retail were up 50% between the 1st-16th May when compared to the first half of April.

However, while the data showed continued growth in vacancy numbers, Broadbean has warned of a lack of talent, with its April statistics revealing an 82% annual decrease in overall application numbers.

Andrew Burton, a retail and catering advisor at Malcolm Scott Consultants and a member of the Farm Retail Association council, has been recruiting all over the country for clients, and he told Speciality Food that restaurant staff in particular have been hard to source, with some having left the industry over 2020 and others still on furlough or secure in their current positions.

“Finding staff will be an issue in the months ahead”

Richard Bramble, chef and co-owner of Bramble Dining in Warwickshire, told Speciality Food that since restrictions for restaurants eased, bookings have gone “through the roof” leading the business to advertise a new chef position.

“We have had no luck in finding a chef. We have advertised the job on recruitment websites for six to eight weeks now and have only had one chef apply. But due to the shortage of chefs at his current place of work, he could not get the time off for an interview and trial,” Richard explained. “We have spoken to many friends who are still in the hospitality industry and they are all struggling to find chefs too; there seems to be a real shortage of them at the moment.”

What’s more, with the current restrictions on the number of customers allowed to dine indoors, Richard is not able to offer a higher salary to entice more applicants. “We think finding hospitality staff will still be an issue in the months ahead,” he said. “With the majority of the hospitality industry having been off work for so long over the past fifteen months, we think people have realised just how much time they have sacrificed and they have left the industry to find a better work-life balance,” he added.

How fine food businesses can attract new applicants

Today, it’s not as simple as sticking a generic job advert up and hoping a good candidate applies. Andrew said fine food shops should be sure to say what’s special about their business to encourage more applicants.

“When recruiting for farm shop restaurant managers, the key points and differences to everyday catering need highlighting,” he explained. “Aspects such as working for independent owners have been appealing for many, as is having a good work-life balance which farm shops often bring due to their opening hours, meaning no split shifts or late nights. 

“Also, being able to influence menus and being able to use locally sourced products, sometimes from within the farm shop itself, also gives a good catering applicant a real buzz,” Andrew said.

In today’s tough hiring environment, where many workers are keen to stay with an existing employer rather than risk joining a new team, it’s especially important for businesses to shout about their unique credentials compared with other restaurant or retail jobs.

“Recruitment is more challenging than it has been for many years, but my experience over the past few months is that there are some very good candidates out there,” Andrew said. However, it’s up to the fine food industry to bring applicants from outside the industry into the fold. “Businesses need to be proactive, creative and reactive, too. They can’t hesitate when good applicants apply, or they will be snapped up by someone else. By creating an advert that highlights an exciting opportunity in a fantastic industry, for example in a farm shop or garden centre, it could persuade those still confident in a new employer.”

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