With Brexit threatening to worsen the already difficult process of finding staff, some operators are looking to alternative resource pools. Georgi Gyton spoke to businesses using hospitality charity Only A Pavement Away about how the process works and the benefits of giving people a second chance.

When it comes to recruitment, the sector’s woes have been well documented. With an estimated 1.3m vacancies due to arise in the hospitality industry over the next six years, and with the prospect of a shallower pool of EU migrant labour post-Brexit, it’s no surprise that operators within the in-dustry are considering thinking outside the box when it comes to their next hire.

For Only A Pavement Away’s (OAPA) founder and chief executive Greg Mang-ham, the realisation there was a gaping hole in the number of applicants, and a multitude of homeless people, ex-offenders and ex-service personnel desperate for a second chance, led him to see an opportunity. One that would help people in need, but also be a resource conduit for potential employees into the sector.

Some of the figures he has compiled are eye-watering. On any one night there are 4,700 people sleeping rough – that is a 167% increase since 2010. And of those who have slept rough, 33% are ex-offenders and 7% are ex-service personnel. For ex-offenders, who leave prison with only £46 of discharge money, 67% are less likely to reoffend if they secure employment.

Reintegration into society

The aim of the charity is to help these people secure employment and support their reintegration back into society. Businesses can post their jobs on the OAPA website just like any other jobs site. Working in conjunction with homeless charity Crisis, all applicants receive an initial assessment to determine which type of job they are best suited to. They then go through a rigorous ‘return to work’ process and are given support to help prepare them for interview and attend any relevant training courses.

Once they start work, they are just like anyone else – a regular employee, paid by the company. In addition, they receive a package of practical support and assistance from Crisis for the first 12 months.

Speaking at the launch of the charity, industry stalwart Mangham, who founded OAPA with his wife, Gill, said: “We have an opportunity to nurture a partnership between charities that manage and assist the vulnerable with an industry looking to fill a wealth of roles and opportunities with people from all walks of life.”

Mangham tells MCA, OAPA views itself “purely as a conduit” for these people to be placed in employment. “Our aim is to become the nominated and recognised charity for the hospitality industry,” he says. Close to 20 operators are already on board, including: Pub Love; Young’s; Brewhouse & Kitchen; Beds & Bars; McMullen; Laines; Stonegate Pub Company; Glendola Leisure; Yummy Collection; Fuller’s; Craft Union; and Faucet Inn. And Mangham is in talks with many others about getting involved.

A nationwide network

He also has plans to widen the scheme to include people with learning difficulties, and wants to improve support for workers by adding the provision of an OAPA-branded rucksack for each individual, containing food vouchers and travelcards so they can get to work, as well as for white goods such as a freezer.

The charity has ambitious targets. It is looking to place 300 people in 2019, 550 in 2020 and 800 in 2021. So how has it worked for the operators who began trialling the scheme earlier this year?

Ben Stackhouse, who runs PubLove – an Ei Group managed expert – was one of the first to sign up. He told MCA the business did not want people to be hired as a favour, or to just be a charitable exercise from an employment point of view.

“Everyone’s got vacancies and every-one’s trying to fill them, so it was about identifying what the advantages would be from a recruitment perspective,” he says. “Fairly early we realised that once this person is on board, the fact you have been instrumental in a major positive change in their life is likely to lead to almost instant loyalty… which is good in the fickle world of employment.”

‘Incredibly positive’

The business took on several people in the first six months, and currently has three members of staff recruited through OAPA – one of whom has been with them for about five months, and the other two around the three-month probation mark.

“We have vacancies and they need jobs, and this is a conduit that makes that process easy for everybody,” he says. “It has all been incredibly positive. Even finding problems has meant we have found solutions.”

Stackhouse says he identified early on that in order to get buy-in from managers – who would normally be in charge of recruiting – the trial would initially need to be led from head office. “Working with Greg we also wanted to make sure operators who came on board, stayed on board,” says Stackhouse. “The key learning for us was that the OAPA contact in each organisation needed to be someone who had decision-making power, was responsible for direct recruitment and was massively engaged in the concept.”

Since the Brexit referendum, he says, it has been significantly harder to recruit, but as the charity grows and more operators get involved, he believes it will grow into a significant additional resource pipeline.

“It’s about finding people who want to work in hospitality, but then about making sure we create enough opportunities for people, and promoting from within. The answer to recruitment problems due to Brexit isn’t just in recruiting, it’s more about retaining and making the sector more attractive to work in.”

Career progression on offer

Young’s has also been working with OAPA from early this year, with its longest recruit, Kevin, with them for around nine months.

Abi Dunlop, recruitment manager, says the company has already hired half a dozen people through the scheme. She says the pubco aims to take on people who will progress and take advantage of the career opportunities and training Young’s offers. “We’re in an industry where we can either offer an interim job or offer people a career. As an employer who has offered chances when other employers haven’t, it builds great loyalty and we can offer them that career progression if they would like it. Our general managers have found it rewarding to not just employ someone, but give them a chance they might not have had before.”

While Dunlop says the use of these sorts of schemes is not going to fix the recruitment problem within the hospitality sector, if all the UK’s hospitality companies got on board, it would make a huge difference.

“As employers, we have a responsibility to look at people available to us who want a job, and not say ‘no, I wouldn’t employ them’ just because of their background. It’s about seeing people as humans and giving them a chance to change their lives, and making use of our privileged position as an employer to be able to do that,” she adds.

“To those who have previously dismissed the idea, or who haven’t thought about it yet, I’d say: Why wouldn’t you? You have nothing to lose.”