By Irene Allan, Director, Opus Restaurants

Listen, learn and invest: that’s what we business owners should be doing with young people. Workers just embarking on their careers are crucial to any industry – their enthusiasm, fresh perspectives and knowledge on upcoming trends are invaluable – and yet how many businesses, especially in the hospitality sector, give these young people an opportunity to work at the entry stage. What a fantastic asset they could be if we just spend a little time inspiring and developing them now.

Like many people, I wasn’t too shocked when I heard news from the CBI last month that 69% of employers are concerned with the skills gap, which was up from 55% last year. That’s why, here at Opus, we’re trying to do our bit in the hospitality sector by introducing our first-ever scholarship programme.

We’ve joined forces with University College Birmingham (UCB) to tailor-make a programme that will develop hospitality students’ work skills. We’ll be offering undergraduates the opportunity to work across all three of our venues – Opus at Cornwall Street, Cafe Opus at Ikon and Bar Opus at One Snowhill – as well as in all areas of our business, including front of house, kitchen and corporate bookings.

We feel that now, more than ever, a scholarship is vital to young people in our sector. Following the recent Brexit vote – with the possibility that EU migrants could face restrictions with work – we need to be inspiring young people to look towards fulfilling careers in hospitality. The sector is crying out for talented, young staff and it is our responsibility, as employers, to develop their skills and make them see it as a career and not just a pit-stop job. That’s why we are very excited by this scholarship programme to help nurture young students and their skills.

As well as teaching these students good business practices, we’ll also be educating them on the importance of sustainability in hospitality. Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do – from purchasing produce responsibly, minimising waste and sourcing ethically – and we think it’s of utmost importance that the younger generation start thinking long term about how their actions will have an impact on future food and communities. By educating staff about ethical practices, we can contribute to making our sector as sustainable as it can be.

By allowing these students to gain real, paid work experience, we know that they will be enhancing their academic knowledge by applying it to practical, working-life situations. And this is what’s crucial – having young people that not only have the grades but also the skills derived from on-the-job training. Communication, problem solving and being a team player are all attractive skills to an employer but they are not something that can be taught in the classroom. It is only when someone has been given the entry opportunity to work in a business, that they can really start harnessing and developing these kinds of much-needed skills.

And scholarships aren’t just beneficial to students. They can be incredibly advantageous to employers too. They are a fantastic way to meet upcoming talent and nurture them in becoming an instrumental member of the team. They are a chance to inspire the next generation – getting them excited for their career – and utilising that enthusiasm and positivity to create a happy and thriving workplace.

Businesses in Birmingham are booming at the moment. We want to maintain that momentum by investing in our young people, by giving them entry opportunities and the skills needed to keep our city’s businesses flourishing.

For more information on Opus’ scholarship programme, visit: opusrestaurant.co.uk