Hospitality qualifications should better reflect the modern-day array of skills required to work in the sector – and move on from outdated obsessions with filleting fish, according to Azzurri Group CEO Steve Holmes.

Holmes said current T-Level qualifications in catering were not representative of working life in the sector, which included marketing, property, HR, finance, technology and IT.

Few other sectors entrust young adults with managing large teams of people, and those skills are often overlooked, he told the UKH Workforce & Skills Event.

Holmes told delegates he was “one of those weirdos” who wanted to get into the hospitality sector at a young age.

But his father, a professional working in the City, did not approve: “He said there is absolutely no way my son is going to be a cook, it’s not going to happen.”

A compromise was that he would do a hospitality business management degree with catering, which he studied at East Anglia.

“It was on that course that I learnt how to bone and fillet a fish and I’ve never filleted a fish since,” he said.

“My frustration is that we have not adapted our skills and our courses even in 30 years to reflect the modern industry, which is so broad and diverse.

“The leadership skills you develop at a very early age, with people in their 20s managing teams of 20 or 30 people, that’s unrecognised.

“That’s a tremendous skill. We might have people from professional services in their 30s that haven’t got people skills that people in restaurants have developed 10 years earlier.”

Holmes said more work was needed to make sure courses and apprenticeships reflected the breadth and the need for employers, “so that people like my father don’t frown on people wanting to join hospitality”.

Steve Holmes cut his teeth as a manager at Brian Turner’s Orange Balloon restaurant chain. After a stint in operations at Cafe Flo, he spent eight years rising through the ranks at PizzaExpress, from ops manager to London regional director. He moved over to become MD of Ask Italian in 2012, with both brands then part of Gonola. He then became CEO of the newly formed Azzurri in 2014 when Ask and Zizzi were acquired by private equity firm Bridgepoint.

Holmes also championed the sector for its alternative work partners – joking that he chose it because it didn’t want to get up early for a 9-5.

“I wanted to be working in the evening, and what better industries are there where I can be social and be paid to be having fun working with other people and making people happy,” he said. 

“It was the ultimate job for me, and I managed to work my way through the ranks from a career perspective. 

“It can be incredibly fulfilling, enriching as well as well as professionally challenging.”

He criticised snobbery over hospitality, and the perspective that it is not a worthy career, and so should be promoted at university job fairs.

“That’s deeply wrong on so many levels, that the third biggest employer in the UK can’t get airtime in colleges and universities to champion this industry as a sector,” he added.