LOTS of money, plenty of variety, flexible hours and the freedom not to be tied to a desk are some of the most sought-after attributes in a career today. What many young people and their careers advisors don't realise is that all of these can be found in the licensed retail trade.
"Thousands of students are working in bars throughout the UK, but few explore the wide variety of career paths on offer in this exciting and dynamic industry," says Melody Walters, recruitment specialist for the licensed trade at agency CRC.
"The licensed sector is constantly changing. There has been the recent introduction of Internet bars, comedy venues and bars from Mediterranean to Australian, and these new developments are set to capture the imagination of young people seeking a rewarding career."
There are 61,000 pubs and bars in the UK, employing more than 600,000 people in roles as diverse as licensed bar management, marketing and sales promotion and public relations and communication. "It's not just about being a bar person. There are numerous other opportunities," says Maureen Hefferman, head of careers promotion at the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII).
The industry is keen to point out that the common perception that a job in the licensed trade offers low pay and few rewards is outdated, and young people can expect to reach positions of responsibility and earn good salaries fairly quickly by comparison with other professions. "It's not unusual for someone in their mid-twenties to be earning £30,000 to £40,000 in this industry," says Hefferman. And, because of the huge expansion in the sector, there are abundant opportunities to find jobs.
Many of the industry's big names, such as JD Wetherspoon, Pitcher & Piano, Whitbread, Bass, Allied Domecq and Scottish & Newcastle, regularly recruit bright young people to train in a multitude of skills such as business management, marketing and staff training and development. The industry offers multiple entry levels, and often there are no stiff entry requirements, as personal qualities take precedence over academic qualifications.
Confidence, honesty and a sense of fun are the qualities sought by Matt Gregson, recruitment and training manager for Pitcher & Piano. "Academic qualifications don't matter at all, and we're not necessarily looking for people with industry experience," he says. "In fact, we often find the best candidates come from other careers."
The company has 23 bars trading nationwide, and plans to have a total of 50 by 2000. "That means a lot of staffing, as we have at least three managers - an assistant manager, a deputy manager and a manager - in each bar," says Gregson.
Pitcher & Piano's three-year personal development programme for trainee managers started five years ago, and the annual intake is growing as the company expands. Gregson estimates that 40 to 60 trainees - a figure which has doubled in two years - will be taken on in the next recruitment drive, scheduled for March 1999.
The preferred age range for Pitcher & Piano trainees is 22 to 28, but the criterion is not rigid.
"We prefer people to have travelled and lived life a bit first," explains Gregson.
New recruits undergo three months' basic training - including waiting on and bar and kitchen duties - before they become assistant managers, so they can get a feel for the industry. "They're told to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, because it gives them a higher degree of empathy and makes them better people managers," explains Gregson.
As well as teaching specific industry skills such as cellar management, the programme aims to equip trainees with transferable skills such as business management, leadership and staff development. And training is not just bar- or classroom-based. In the first year, trainees are taken on an Outward Bound course in the Lake District, with the aim of developing team-building skills.
Pitcher & Piano's training programme does not lead to any industry-recognised qualifications - although Gregson hopes it will in the future - but some companies offer training courses which have been accredited by such bodies as the British Institute of Innkeeping, or opportunities to gain National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).
JD Wetherspoon is one such company, and applications for its shift manager development programme, which results in an NVQ level 2 in customer service and an NVQ level 3 in on licensed premises supervision, are welcomed from people aged 18 and over. Like Pitcher & Piano, the company's expansion - 80 pubs are expected to open in the next year, and the total number will increase from 280 to 500 by 2001 - has created a need to recruit new shift managers, since five are employed in each pub.
"We expect to take on 800 to 850 new shift managers in the next few years," says Stacey Hubbard, recruitment manager for JD Wetherspoon. Again, appropriate personal qualities are given a higher priority than academic qualifications. "In potential shift managers we look for qualities such as energy, enthusiasm, commitment and common sense," explains Hubbard. "We prefer to take someone with the right attitude who is eager to learn, and train them."
Three levels of recruitment
Graduates aged 22 to 26 are targeted by Allied Domecq, which recruits at three levels: for potential pub managers, for bar and restaurant managers, and for high flyers destined for executive roles in an estate which includes such venues as Firkin and Big Steak Pubs.
"When recruiting we identify capabilities which lead to success, such as team working, creative skills, an ability to influence others, high energy and a desire to get results," says Martin Archer, human resources director for Allied Domecq Retail. He says it is helpful if applicants have had holiday jobs within the industry, so they have an idea of what to expect, such as long hours.
Bass Leisure Retail also provides training for graduates, and its Choices programme has been embraced by the company's 43-strong All Bar One chain of bars. "The purpose of the programme is to identify people at hospitality-based universities and colleges who want to come into the industry. They join us as assistant managers and are fast-tracked through the business," says Andy Muspratt, human resources manager for All Bar One. "The aim is for them to reach general manager status within a year, when they could be running a business with sales in excess of £1m a year.
Opportunities to progress from assistant manager level exist also in Whitbread Inns, where the assistant manager career development scheme is an 18-month course culminating in both BII and the company's own exams. Entry can be direct from college or university, as no experience is required, although the company says most recruits do have some experience.
Scottish & Newcastle Retail says 10% of its management recruits are from a college or university background, and 20% are less than 25 years old. The company's training scheme for assistant managers takes two years to complete, and provides trainees with recognised qualifications, including a range of NVQs. Recruits can expect to earn between £12,000 and £15,000 a year, with additional benefits such as live-in accommodation and free meals on duty. When they reach manager level, they can earn salaries of up to £50,000 a year. n