Public sector caterers fear worsening staff shortages

PS100 YPO foodservice public sector catering
Reading FC's Madejski Stadium hosted the YPO-PS100 Group event: Photo John Fielding
21/09/2018 - 07:00
Looking at the challenges facing public sector catering over the next few years, industry leaders have identified growing skills shortages as one of the biggest threats.

An expert panel at the YPO/PS100 Group Seminar held in Reading agreed that recruiting and retaining the chefs of tomorrow was a worry.

Owen Sidaway, head of prison catering for England and Wales said: “Recruitment is a major issue and a fear going forward. I can foresee skills shortages getting worse.

“We put lots of investment into training offenders in our kitchens, but unfortunately we can’t reward ourselves for this by then employing them.”

Craig Smith, vice chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, added: “No one goes through catering college to become a hospital chef, but we desperately need them. We have to get it across to young people that it’s a great career.

“I like to think that in my time working in hospital kitchens I’ve made a difference along the way, and we need to let young people know about that rewarding side of the job.”

Michael Hales, the new chair of LACA, agreed, saying difficulties in recruitment and skills shortages were a threat to the school meals service.

David Nuttall, a non-executive director of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) said his organisation was doing a lot to support training and apprenticeships in the higher education sector to mitigate the problem of recruiting enough staff.

The panel discussion during the event held at the Madejski Stadium, home of Reading Football Club on September 19th, saw other areas of concern too.

Tighter budgets were affecting NHS and school caterers at a time when food price inflation was reducing their spending power.

And market fragmentation was another issue, coming from the growth of multi academy trusts (MATs) in schools, proposals to give prison governors more power to make decisions at a local level and the threat of outsourcing that faced universities and the healthcare sector.

Andrew Archer, managing director of Dewberry Redpoint, publisher of Cost Sector Catering, gave those attending the event some highlights from GlobalData research into the public sector catering market in the UK.

He said consumer trends showed that demand for more customisation of food, more convenience, a blending of health and indulgence and a willingness to spend a bit more on better value all needed to be addressed by caterers over the next few years.

Within the public sector, forecasts showed that schools and universities, which combined make education the biggest sector of the market, were likely to see the biggest growth to 2021 based on the number of customer transactions – up on average 1.5%.

Healthcare would see growth closer to 0.7%, in both cases he said this reflected the likelihood that Government spending might remain tight, but would rise in line with inflation.

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