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UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls joins industry leaders in a call to arms to transform the perception of hospitality careers

Five hospitality heavyweights gathered for an inspiring and thought-provoking discussion focused on transforming the perception of hospitality careers and attracting more young talent to the industry. The panel event took centre stage at the 2024 Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or awards ceremony earlier this month, creating the perfect setting to deliver a powerful message to more than 240 industry professionals.

The panel, which was chaired by TV presenter Mark Durden-Smith, featured UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls OBE, Nestlé Professional managing director Katya Simmons, Sodexo’s food innovation & sustainability director David Mulcahy, Chef Publishing editor Claire Bosi and CORE recruitment managing director Krishnan Doyle.

Each speaker brought unique insights and perspectives on how to reshape the narrative around hospitality careers, while all believing that in order to attract more young talent, greater collaboration was needed. “You can’t be what you can’t see”, said Kate Nicholls, highlighting the important role young professionals in hospitality have to play in inspiring the next generation. “We’re already doing some fantastic work to sell our industry to school pupils, but we need more young ambassadors to step forward and go into schools themselves, as they’re closer in age and more relatable. So collaboration is key”, she went onto say.

Katya Simmons shared the successes of Nestlé Professional’s youth initiatives, Toque d’Or and the Choose Hospitality Pledge, which aim to transform young people’s perceptions of hospitality careers. She commented: “This year has been a great success with almost 400 entries to the Toque d’Or competition. Together with the Choose Hospitality Pledge, which we co-founded with Chef Publishing and Springboard, we are doing our best to inspire young talent and help them land exciting roles with fantastic career progression opportunities. However, our industry is highly fragmented, dynamic and creative which means we need to come together if we’re to make the desired impact. For example, the Choose Hospitality Pledge depends on you – brilliant people from across our industry – to take what we’re doing to transform the perception of hospitality careers, from strength to strength.”

David Mulcahy spoke passionately about the vast career opportunities available in hospitality. Using the platform as an opportunity to inspire young people, he said: “Don’t limit your thinking to what you can do or where you can go in your careers. Hospitality is the industry that lets you do anything you want. There are plenty of stepping stones and opportunities for people starting out, so I urge anyone considering a career in hospitality to take on the mindset ‘I’m here, help me, train me, develop me.” Shedding light on some of the work Sodexo is doing in this area, David said: “In partnership with the Choose Hospitality Pledge, we’re delivering mass career workshops at key stadia sites, including Everton’s Goodison Park, Newcastle United’s St James’ Park and Brighton & Hove Albion’s American Express Stadium. It’s fantastic work that enables us to give young people and their influencers – teachers and parents – more choices and opportunities to thrive.”

Claire Bosi addressed the media’s role in shaping perceptions of the industry. “Mainstream media often fails to portray chefs as happy characters. Hospitality has changed, and the opportunities to grow are endless. It’s not just front-of-house and back-of-house; there’s a place for social media, textiles, mathematics, finance, technology and more. To address this, Claire went onto say: “We need more communication – more positive communication – to ensure young people and their parents are aware of the broad range of career opportunities available in hospitality”.

Krishnan Doyle shared his personal insights on the entrepreneurial spirit required to thrive in hospitality. He said “Hospitality is one of those industries that doesn’t hold you back, regardless of your skill level. You need to push yourself, almost thinking like you’re an entrepreneur, and not be afraid to ask for promotions at the right time and be inquisitive. With the right mindset, you can go far in hospitality.”

The roundtable concluded with a shared agreement on the challenges and opportunities to improve the perception of hospitality as an aspirational career choice for young people. The key solution, however, was greater industry-wide collaboration to ensure young people get the information and support they need to be able to make informed decisions regarding their careers.