The skills gap: Where are we now and how do we close it?

Sponsored: By Matt White, Chair of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) and Director of Catering, Hotel and Conference Services at Reading Uni

The foodservice sector is facing a significant skills gap, with 20% of businesses already unable to recruit staff with the skills they require. Add Brexit into the mix and the hospitality industry is looking at a shortfall of up to 60,000 workers a year. It’s no mean feat to fill this gap and that’s why it’s so important that university caterers are getting ahead of the game and positioning themselves as employers of choice.

Over 1.7 million undergraduates enrolled on full-time courses last academic year. Combine this diverse student population with the varied demographic of further education students, staff and visitors, and it’s clear that university chefs need to be talented, flexible and pioneering to meet the demands of this multicultural, multi-generational customer base. That’s why it’s essential that universities invest in staff training, attractive employment packages and clear routes for career progression to ensure they attract and retain the best talent for the future.

A big focus for us at TUCO is working collaboratively with our members to build a stronger, bigger and brighter workforce. To do this, we run initiatives such as the TUCO Skills Competition – to highlight the brilliant talent and variety of roles within the sector – and offer an array of in-person and online courses, apprenticeships and inspiring study tours through our TUCO Academy.

Matt White

Not only does training help to upskill and motivate existing staff but it also positions universities as an enticing career path for future hospitality stars – in particular Generation Y. By 2020, Generation Y will make up half of the global workforce, so it’s especially important that we are mindful of their expectations, desires and drivers. A good work/life balance, for example, is one of the top factors they consider when choosing an employer – an area that the public sector excels in and something we could all be shouting about more.

Looking even further into the future, some TUCO members are also implementing forward-thinking schemes to engage with the younger generation. Take Staffordshire University, for example, which is running a primary school outreach programme to teach food education to children from an early age. The initiative not only raises awareness of the benefits of healthy eating but also positions catering and hospitality as a successful and aspirational career option.

By working together and making the education catering sector as attractive as possible to today’s workforce and the next generation, we can make great strides to lessen the skills gap and continue to grow and innovate the exciting sector in which we work.

For more information on TUCO, please visit:


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