Celebrity chefs back ‘learning and earning’ youth jobs scheme

·4 min read

Celebrity chefs have urged young people to get “learning and earning” by applying for jobs in the Covid-battered hospitality sector, as the deadline looms on a Government-funded work scheme.

The Kickstart programme funds employers to create six-month paid jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit, who are at risk of long-term unemployment.

It funds 25 hours per week at national minimum wage, including National Insurance contributions and automatic enrolment pension contributions, however the deadline for applications, on December 31 2021, is fast approaching.

West Midlands hospitality working group
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street alongside chefs Aktar Islam, Glynn Purnell and Alex Claridge, at the Opheem restaurant, Birmingham (Jacob King/PA)

Celebrity chef and Chelmsley Wood-born Glynn Purnell, who owns the Michelin-starred Purnell’s restaurant in Birmingham, has urged people to “take the opportunity that is being gifted”, by getting a funded job within the hospitality industry.

The sector has been among those hit by both Covid and Brexit, with many who were employed in the trade before the pandemic moving into other fields, while the UK divorce from the EU also meant migrant workers have looked for pastures new.

Mr Purnell was lending his support at an event to support Kickstart applications, alongside fellow Michelin star chef director Aktar Islam, who runs the city’s Opheem fine dining establishment, and Alex Claridge, whose Birmingham eatery The Wilderness is in the Michelin guide.

All three are backing a plea by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street for more young people to sign up for thousands of vacancies in the hospitality industry.

West Midlands hospitality working group
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street talks to chef Aktar Islam (Jacob King/PA)

Mr Purnell said: “I was born and bred in Chelmsley Wood, the dark side of Solihull, and I was educated in the industry, I left school at 16 without any qualifications – now I own a Michelin-starred restaurant.

“I was an apprentice – I had to knock on doors and I was given an opportunity, but not on a silver platter – this is a gift.”

He added: “Kickstart gives young people an opportunity, a window to see, so you’re not thrown into the den, you’re nurtured.”

He added it was an industry that could “take you across the world”, adding he had met the Queen, Barbara Windsor, and Dame Shirley Bassey.

“It is a fantastic career and if you want to own the best sandwich shop, then you can do it, it isn’t all about Michelin stars.”

Mr Islam, who grew up in Birmingham’s inner-city Aston area, said: “Hospitality has taken me all over the world when, as a young man, I had struggled to spell my own name, so hospitality opened doors for me.”

He added: “With roles like these, you are given responsibility and allowed to grow as an individual.

“With that responsibility is a massive opportunity, so many doors are opened up.

“Hospitality isn’t a one-dimensional industry, there’s so many places you can move into.”

Mr Claridge, who spent a decade at a Big Four accountancy firm in London before leaving a successful career behind to pursue his passion for food, said: “In my experience, there’s more skill and talent needed in hospitality, than there is in working for a Big Four firm.

“I’m sure that (statement) will get me in trouble.”

He added: “It is a very rewarding sector, it transforms your life and opens up to you opportunities you’ll never have in any other sector.

“But there’s this image it is a sub-standard sector and you’ll do it until you find something better – what is better?”

Turning to the effect of Covid, the chef, who is preparing for the imminent opening of his second venue in the city, said: “Yes, the hospitality industry has been beaten senseless the last few years, but a little beating isn’t going to stop us.

“We’re back.

Mr Street said: “In the Kickstart scheme we have about 5,000 people into real jobs there now, already.

“We also got about 12,000 vacancies in the West Midlands, so very simply, the jobs are there.

“So we’re saying to young people today, think about where you want to get your first experience, and the hospitality sector might be a great opportunity.

“They’re innovative jobs, they’re ambitious jobs, we’ve seen the celebrity chefs – you might end up like one of them in years to come.”

He added: “We need people to get on and apply quickly, the Government are saying this scheme will end in December so please, get those applications in.”

The latest data has shown that across the whole of the West Midlands there are currently 172,000 vacancies across all sectors – which is up 45% on the pre-pandemic figure.

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