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Hospitality and Tourism

Apprenticeships at Suffolk Food Hall

Report Segment: Suffolk Food Hall (2)

Suffolk Food Hall is an exception to the rule that tourism businesses don't get involved in apprenticeships. Director Oliver Paul sees the potential in apprenticeships and a third of their 35 staff are on apprenticeship schemes ranging from the fishmongering and butchery skills to traditional chefing, customer service and management. Some trainees have not stayed the whole course, but to Oliver, the investment in time is always worth it – and young people enjoy the experience and see the potential in the sector – indeed two recent early leavers have taken their newly learnt skills with them to hopefully earn while they travel around the world.

Suffolk Food Hall was set up in 2007 and has been expanding ever since. The Paul family is behind this farm diversification venture which has won several awards including Best Alternative Land Enterprise in Suffolk and adjoining counties 2009, Best On Farm Butcher in Britain national farm shop awards 2010 and Farm Diversification of the Year 2011, Farmers Weekly finalist.

Oliver Paul who takes care of the day to day running of the business, is passionate about skills.

Almost a third of the staff are on apprenticeship schemes (11 out of 36), learning traditional butcher, baker, chef and fishmonger skills.

Two staff are management trainees studying on day release courses at Easton College.

Although Oliver Paul is keen to employ local people, he admits to interviewing a very large number of people to find someone with the right attitude. “We’re after people with the right mindset - and attitude and aptitude are vital – much more important than paper qualifications”, Oliver believes.

However, there are technical skills which need to be formally learnt, and that is where the apprenticeship scheme comes in. “Technical skills are being destroyed by supermarkets through the division of labour, so its vital that our staff get the right training and qualifications to restore the balance in traditional skills”

But Oliver Paul’s approach is a rarity and certainly more needs to be done to encourage apprenticeship take-up in other tourism and hospitality businesses. One thought is to relieve the employer of the many potential burdens in the apprenticeship scheme. It involves finding a ‘surrogate’ employer who can take all of the employment responsibilities; businesses then have the option to work with an apprentice on a flexible basis. Apprenticeship Training Associations (ATA’s) do just that. They take responsibility for recruitment and employment during the course of the apprenticeship and the businesses from the sector can make variable commitments to training up the apprentice.