The pub industry needs to be “bigger, braver and bolder” to encourage young people to seek a career in the sector, according to Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) chief executive Alistair Darby.

Speaking at M&C Report’s Future Pub Conference in London yesterday, Darby called on the sector to “raise its game” to attract good young employees and “illuminate” the opportunities available.

It follows news yesterday that M&B has pledged a further 1,000 apprentices.

Darby highlighted the example of McDonald’s, which he said had “got under the skin” of what young people want by offering facilities such as the ability to swaps shifts with colleagues on-line.

“The truth is I think we’ve got to be bigger and braver and bolder about understanding what matters to younger people.

“We get very hung up on zero hours contracts and minimum wage but the truth is all of our research says that for the young people working for us, the pay is only one part of the equation.” He pointed out that M&B does not use zero hours contracts.

Darby said the eating and drinking out industry will need six million more employees over the next five years as its value grows from £75bn to £90bn.

“We have to recognise that for a lot of people, the attraction of working for someone like Google is more attractive than working for a pub or restaurant business. If we want really good people working in this industry, which we dearly do, we are going to have to raise our game to deal with these kind of competitors.”

Darby cited problems with the industry’s image, with many parents still to taking it seriously as a career and the media’s negative portrayal, “whether it’s Gordon Ramsay swearing in kitchens or Sky showing people throwing up on Birmingham high street on a weekend”.

“If we’re going to attract bright young people into our business we’ve got to do something about this.

“We’ve got to start to do a much, much better job of illuminating the attractions of working in this industry.”

He said the industry is “the worst kept secret”. “The truth is, in no time at all people can develop quickly through this business, and they can be running large businesses if they’re capable very early on in their career.

“We’ve got a guy running a new build Harvester down on the south coast that takes £20,000 a week, employs 40 people, and he’s 24. He’s running a million pound turnover business that’s bigger than most small and medium enterprises in the UK at 24- and with it the promise of the order of £40,000 [as a wage].

“I think the vast majority of people have no concept that that is the kind of career path you can get to, and beyond, in this industry.”

Darby said there’s a particular opportunity because many young people are thinking about not going to university because the cost, which according to Government figures can total £100,000.

He also said the industry is “not very good at keeping people”. With turnover around 70%, there’s 1.4m vacancies per year, Darby pointed out.