Inside Track by Peter Martin
The pub and bar industry has a major image problem. As the Britain’s universities start new academic years, the question must be how many of those graduating in three or four years time will go onto jobs in the licensed retail or eating out markets, or any part of the leisure or hospitality industry for that matter? Very few, is the guess. Despite the industry’s size and growing importance, it is still not seen as a proper career choice for bright, young graduates. At a senior level, pubs are increasingly perceived as a dynamic and worthwhile sector, underlined this week by Mark McQuater, boss of the Barracuda group, being named business person of the year at the Henley Business Awards. There are many intelligent and shrewd leaders at the top of the industry, but a large proportion of those came into the sector after starting their careers elsewhere – accountancy and the law are not uncommon breeding grounds. But shouldn’t the sector be aiming to get that calibre of future manager coming in at the ground floor? The need for bright and resourceful people at all levels of the market has never been greater. This column has argued before that the pub trade in particular will need better-equipped local management in the future, not least to deal with the increased pressures from local authorities, police and communities that the new licensing regime will bring. Management talent will need to be on the front-line. This is certainly something that progressive companies like Greene King are looking to address. It is keen to learn from the incentive packages put together by the best entrepreneurial chains. But a major challenge is for the industry to demonstrate it can provide structured career paths, with well thought out business incentives and development programmes. Big corporates like Mitchells & Butlers are already well down that route, but smaller players need to find answers too. Setting an example is the ALMR, which this week launched its annual Operations Manager of the Year Awards for pub group area managers and business development managers. The awards process includes a Master Class component, first introduced last year. All the finalists spend four days at the Ashridge business school in Hertfordshire, including a challenging three-day bespoke training programme. The aim is to provide an extra level of business insight and inspiration. Ashridge is now keen to do further work with companies from the pub sctor As ALMR’s chief executive Nick Bish said: "The Operations Managers Awards are not just a competition, they are a learning exercise too. Ops Managers are the people who can really make a difference to a pub business, so it’s vital to give them the tools to do the job properly." Of course, there is still the problem of attracting the top talent early on. With so many students now needing part-time work in bars and restaurants to fund their education, perhaps the operators should do more to track these youngsters and engage them when they have the opportunity and sell the benefits of a career in leisure?