The BHA (British Hospitality Association) recently had the most incredible event at the home of the London Mayor, Boris’ – City Hall. I was lucky enough to be invited to as part of the BIG Conversation – All about how hospitality offers; as the 4th largest employer, fantastic employment and career opportunities.

The hosts were Will and April, they were completely inspiring – imagine what it must be like for young people to stand in front of an audience of hundreds and talk about their journey from being unemployed to finding hospitality as a passion for their future. We saw a number of young people who talked about how quickly the opportunities in hospitality have turned their life around, how they worked to overcome the knock backs and how their future is so much brighter.

Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor; spoke of how he started work with pots and pans of the catering establishment for his first job, what he learnt and how it’s important to get young people from education into work and how hospitality is the blood keeping the city alive; so that it has increasing visitors year on year!

There are the jobs out there – the event had 700 jobs available mapped out & on display in the foyer. Real jobs that were available that day plus 3000 pledges of more to come; and that was before the conference even started!!!

Tamara Campbell the HR Director from Nandos was very inspiring on how their business relies totally on young people. How it is the employer’s attitude that was important to help the young and unemployed get into the work place that will make the difference. Kirsty, Nick, Lakia, Jessica and Moe talked about what it was like to be unemployed and what they needed from employers to help them into a role. It’s not just the big things; but the small things too – a range of skills are needed. One of which is how to respond to an alarm and get out of bed!! Simple, but a really important first step actually when you’ve had lots of knocks backs, it’s the first step and one of the most difficult. Especially when you believe you have no future, no reason and always going to have rejection. It’s also important for employees to look beyond the past, break down the barriers and look to the future of what people can offer – especially for people that have not had high exposure to ethics or culture of work.

Employers need to give confidence to young people to allow them to stand up and be counted. April was particularly pleased that everyone makes mistakes and is important to believe that that’s not a pattern for life.

There were some amazing inspiring stores of success – especially as the totally misinformed deputy leader of the TUC, Frances O’grady had recently sited Barista as a dead end job (wouldn’t want to be her getting a coffee in any venue soon). Doesn’t she know about Jason Cotta, MD of costa, who started as a barista – no qualifications and now is MD of the company – how impressive is that! Or Mike Smith who was equally impressive in that he had started in McDonald’s, right at the bottom on the shop floor, and now there he was as the owner of 12 McDonald’s in London.

One thing about this fantastic industry is that you can start from nowhere and there is nothing but yourself, and some luck of course, stopping you from getting to the top – there are examples everywhere and it’s our job to shout about it and do our part to help kids take the first step – that may be just having faith.

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My earliest food memories are of my mum’s baking; coconut pyramid cakes were my favourite.

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