Developing your most important asset

Training can be the key to retaining top catering talent in a competitive market, says Claire Aylward from Harrison Catering

Regardless of what industry you are in or where you work, one thing always seems to be true: competition for talented, skilled people is fierce. And catering is no exception. To not only attract but retain the best staff, you need to do more than say your people are your greatest asset, you need to ensure that your people believe it.

Today’s employees are looking to learn, develop and advance, and one of the best ways to keep your top talent is to invest in them through training and development. It’s an investment that not only delivers results for your school through improved skills, but also makes staff feel valued, increasing their loyalty and their willingness to go the extra mile for your pupils, parents and community.

Even if you have an existing team of experienced people working in your school kitchen and dining facility, you or your caterer (depending on whether your operation is in house or contracted) should continually be looking for ways to help them develop new skills and grow in their roles. Training can take the form of one-on-one mentoring, on-site skills workshops or craft training done off-site. There’s no one size fits all, so training needs to adapt to each individual in the team.

NVQ and other professional qualifications are available for those working in all roles at all levels and in many cases the coursework can be completed on the job. You can support staff in achieving these qualifications in a variety of ways. One of the easiest is to provide them with the flexibility and time-off to attend courses. Or if you are in a position to do so, providing a financial contribution to support professional qualification schemes is also an option. Harrison, for example, has worked with training partners to design programmes that align with the business so that managers and catering professionals do much of their learning on the job, with assignments that not only satisfy course requirements, but help them to find solutions in their day-to-day roles and develop their performance and results.

If you work with a contract caterer, they may have their own bespoke training programmes from which your catering team can benefit. It is worth investigating what is available and if these programmes have received accreditation from recognised industry organisations. For example, Harrison developed its own bespoke customer care programme, The Harrison Smile, which has been awarded a quality mark by People 1st in association with The Hospitality Guild. This type of industry-recognised accreditation means the training has been assessed against established standards and speaks volumes about the quality of your training, both to your staff and to your parents and prospective parents.

You can also investigate what training support is available from your suppliers, who have specific expertise that you can potentially tap into to benefit your staff and help them build new skills. Many larger companies have established training sessions that they offer to customers, but even local providers are often eager to share what they know and motivated to strengthen partnerships with customers by providing added value services.

Investing in training pays great dividends and the benefits should become evident almost immediately. Staff who are given training opportunities are more motivated and enthusiastic and return to work with new skills and ideas, improving the food offer and the experience of your pupils and ultimately enhancing the reputation of your school.

Claire Aylward is joint managing director of Harrison Catering Services 

www.harrisoncatering.co.uk