To mark Hospitality Apprenticeships Week (18-22 October), we spoke to Craig Parsons, Apprenticeship Manager at Fuller, Smith & Turner, about apprenticeships and careers with the company’s 400 pubs, bars and hotels.

Tell us about your career in hospitality.

I’m a chef by trade but my job is to manage the apprenticeships for the whole Fuller’s estate.

Although I studied for a Sports Biomedicine degree, I loved cooking and wanted to pursue a career in the kitchen. At the time you couldn’t do an apprenticeship if you had a degree, so I applied for various jobs instead. I was given the opportunity to trial working in a kitchen, which eventually led to working for two AA rosette pubs.

I read a lot of books and developed my own style and role in restaurants, ski chalets and hotels. I’ve also been involved in food development for big supermarkets and worked for an apprenticeship provider. Because I couldn’t get on an apprenticeship myself, I wanted to give other people the education they deserve.

Tell us more about Fuller’s relationship with WestKing.

We began running Commis Chef and Chef de Partie apprenticeships with WestKing in 2019 and currently have 30 apprentices training. The college is renowned for being one of the best educational establishments for cookery in the world and we’re delighted they’re now in our network of education providers.

Whenever we look to work with a college, we always send our staff out to experience a class for themselves. You cannot fail to be impressed by WestKing’s prestige and ethos and we know the apprentices are going to be trained to the highest standards.

What skills will apprentices gain during their apprenticeship?

Our apprenticeships are about giving people the best education, not just for now but for later in life. At Fuller’s, we don’t always need to prep food from start to finish, but we still train our chefs with those skills because we know they’re going to use them in the future. It’s not just about what Fuller’s needs but about the whole industry.

The reason we use colleges is because they give students room to fail and that is often the best way to learn. From advanced pasta making to butchering, it’s important to have a safe environment where you can get advice and have room to improve.

What do you look for in an apprentice?

Ultimately, we’re looking for people with the right attitude, who want to get out of bed in the morning and have the drive to come to an interview and apply themselves at work and college. I don’t want anyone to feel they can’t join our apprenticeship programme.

Why is hospitality such a good career?

A career in hospitality can take you anywhere. I always had in my head that I didn’t want to stay in one environment for more than two years, although I’ve been at Fuller’s for seven years now.

At Fuller’s, you can move around and gain experience in many different environments and still have the security of a large company that offers great pay and benefits. You can earn from day one, add your own twist to dishes on the menus and become a head chef in four or five years.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a hospitality career?

Don’t just look at the name of the employer you want to work for, look at the training you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s not clear exactly what training is being offered. Make sure you know what you’re signing up for.

How is Fuller’s responding to the impact of the COVID pandemic?

COVID has had such an impact. The Government wants to push everyone into STEM careers. I can understand the motivation behind it but we’re starting to see big gaps across the hospitality sector.We need them to react to what’s going on and recognise the industry needs help to get people trained and into work.

There is going to be a new population of people looking for hospitality careers and there’s also a lot of untapped potential out there.At Fuller’s, we’re looking to expand our apprenticeship team and ways to increase awareness of apprenticeships across the sector.

We’re also planning further school liaisons to engage with young people.We’ve previously ran school events where we would teach the students skills such as how to fillet a fish and have had candidates coming forward off the back of that, so we know it works.

What are the benefits of being an apprentice with Fuller’s?

We started with a chef apprenticeship programme in 2016 because that is where we had a skills shortage. We started with 16 apprentices and now have more than 120 across the business. As well as chef apprenticeships we also run training programmes for our front of house and general managers. One of the biggest benefits is that we offer all our apprentices a permanent role upon completion of their programme. Fuller’s is also making big changes to its current pay and benefits package. We’re already industry leading with our apprenticeship pay and about to offer the highest national pay rate.

The learning opportunities are endless. Our apprentices can compete in our annual Chef of the Year competition, where past winners have had the chance to visit Michelin star restaurants in New York and Hong Kong. We also provide visits to our supply chain to see how our meat and produce is sourced and prepared.

Fuller’s has also won awards pre-COVID including Best Apprenticeship Training Programme at the British Institute of Innkeeping National Innovation in Training Awards and a silver award for Best Apprenticeship Programme at the Training Journal Awards.

How are our current apprentices doing?

They are all loving their apprenticeships and have remained positive despite COVID. They say it’s been tough but are seeing the positive impact the training is going to have on their future careers. There will always be cases where some people are struggling but we’ve got the support mechanisms in place to help them one-to-one and through the Licensed Trade Charity.

How do you see your partnership with WestKing developing?

I’ve been to an induction day at WestKing and plan to go and see some of the cookery sessions next year. I’m keen to get our general managers and head chefs along to the college and help co-train and co-assess learners, which will not only remind them of culinary techniques but also teach them about new trends and increase their skillset.

How do you apply for an apprenticeship with Fuller’s?

All apprenticeships at Fuller’s are advertised on our website and on job sites like Successful applicants will be assessed by a college on their suitability for an apprenticeship.

WestKing runs Hospitality and Culinary Arts apprenticeships with many companies across the sector. Click here to Apply Now.

Two aspiring chefs from Westminster Kingsway College are heading in the right direction after being named runners up in the Compass Apprentice Chef of the Year.

Nathan Racey and Dylan Patel were awarded silver and bronze place in the competition run by contract catering and hospitality provider Compass Group UK.

The pair competed alongside other four other young chefs to create a three-course meal in three hours at the company’s head office in Chertsey, Surrey.

The competition was judged by a panel headed up by Michelin-starred celebrity chef Marcus Wareing.

Nathan, 19, from Braintree, Essex, who is completing a Chef de Partie apprenticeship with catering company Levy UK, served up a roast pigeon starter, a main course of halibut, crispy oyster and artichoke followed by a lemon posset for dessert.

He said: “I went into the competition with the intention to win but it didn’t quite go my way. It was still a good experience and good to have two apprentices from WestKing in the top three. I also got to meet Marcus Wareing and got his feedback, which was really inspiring.

“I was confident with my dishes and happy with all my flavours. I would’ve like to have done a couple of things differently to refine them, but overall I was pleased with how they turned out.

“I have taken part in a couple of competitions, and every time you come out a stronger chef and take things you’ve learnt into the next. You are working in an intense environment, infusing flavours and creating menus and dishes, which you can take anywhere else.”

Dylan, 24, from Hounslow, who is undertaking a Commis Chef apprenticeship with Restaurant Associates Group, cooked an Indian inspired menu.

He started with crispy fried Dover sole and a selection of chutneys followed by a main course of roasted guinea fowl, aloo gobi and makhana sauce. His dessert was a carrot halwa with pistachio ice cream.

Dylan said: “This was my first competition and it was a great experience. It was quite tense. There were a lot of spices to each element and I only had a minute left when it was plated up to be served.

“Because of lockdown I’ve only worked for three months on my apprenticeship, but I’ve still been coming into college once a week to practise with my tutor Nick Gunyon. I don’t think I would’ve come in the top three if it wasn’t for him.

“The competition has boosted my confidence in the kitchen at home and at work. I’ve learnt to refine my dishes, shown more attention to detail and brought up the standard of my cooking than when I first started.”

Marcus praised all the finalists in the competition, which was also judged by Nick Vadis, Culinary Director of Compass Group UK and Paul Mannering and Mark Belford, from HIT Training.

He said: “It takes a very brave chef to enter into a competition. When you spend your time working in teams, especially at apprenticeship level, to compete on your own can be hard.

“I judged the semi-finals as well, and from then to today all I can say is wow! What an amazing achievement. Every single finalist has improved so much in such a short space of time – you’ve gone home and studied your menus and that really showed today.”

Jonathan Foot, Head of Apprenticeships and Early Careers at Compass Group UK & Ireland, said: “It’s been so rewarding to watch all the apprentices who took part and demonstrated their resilience, determination and skills. This competition is evidence of the benefits of apprenticeships in supporting the skills development of our future talent.”

WestKing is one of the country’s leading providers of Hospitality and Culinary Arts courses and apprenticeships, with many of its alumni established chefs in top restaurants.

Congratulating both apprentices, Nick Gunyon, Curriculum Manager for Hospitality Apprenticeships, said: “During his time at college, Nathan has been developing the skills he has been learning in the workplace and driven them forward in his competition work. He has shown amazing talent and is definitely one to watch in the future.

“Dylan has made the best use of his time during lockdown by entering the competition, creating his chosen dishes and practising them at college. He has a fantastic attitude, and as a young chef in his first year of cooking he has already achieved so much.”

Apply now for Hospitality and Culinary Arts courses and apprenticeships.

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