A qualitative investigation into the experiences of workers in the hospitality sector in Scotland

Chapter Six: Training and progression in the workplace

This chapter explores workers' view on progression, showing how some hospitality workers had fairly low expectations of progression opportunities in the industry while, by contrast, others – particularly chefs and managers – saw the industry as offering significant opportunities for progression. In both cases, however, low pay and poor working conditions were seen as barriers to progression opportunities. The final sections look at experiences around training, both in terms of the experiences of those who have received little to no training, as well as those who have pursued training opportunities and who see these as central to their sense of purpose and hopes for progression in the workplace.

The themes explored in this chapter address issues relating in particular to experiences of 'opportunity' and 'fulfilment' at work – two of the five dimensions of fair work as outlined in the Fair Work Convention's Framework.

6.1 Views on progression

Our participants expressed a range of views on opportunities for progression in the industry. On the one hand, we spoke to people who expressed little to no interest in progressing in the industry, typically because they saw their jobs as secondary to their studies or ambitions to enter other industries. By comparison, other participants simply expressed a wish to leave the industry altogether as they had become weary of poor working conditions and pay. A further subsection of participants expressed a reluctance to pursue progression because they saw their hospitality work as secondary to their full-time jobs in other industries and as, first and foremost, a supplementary source of income. However, in these cases it was clear that experiences of low pay and poor working conditions also contributed to this sense that they were better off pursuing progression opportunities and job security outside of the hospitality industry.

On the other hand, many of our research participants did see the hospitality industry as offering opportunities for valued forms of progression. For example, among chefs and others who worked with specialist produce, such as wine or coffee, progression typically meant being paid relatively well and achieving a greater sense of creative and professional fulfilment by improving their skill-set – possibilities that were, in theory, seen as achievable through continuing to gain experience and, in some cases, pursuing formal training opportunities. For other workers, this improved sense of security and fulfilment was seen as possible by opening their own businesses: for example, we spoke to several people who aspired to open their own restaurants, coffee shops, or bars. Finally, other participants, particularly those working in hotel and restaurants, saw opportunities for progression through management and, moreover, through management in high-end or luxury venues. For example, consider these comments by Tony, who had worked in the hospitality industries for several decades:

"Something I always say.. is: 'It doesn't matter, your background. If you're willing to work hard and put in the hours, you will get far.' One of the things I always say.....I was born and brought up in a tenement [in Glasgow], and I went on to work in Five-Star hotels and a Three Michelin Star restaurant, a Two Michelin Star restaurant, and several One Michelin Star restaurants. And it was when I worked with this [famous] sommelier Johnnie Walker….and he said: 'We're ordinary people, doing extraordinary things.' I think that's the good thing about hospitality."

Tony, 54, restaurant manager, Glasgow

Interestingly, Tony's words here also evoke a sense that the hospitality industry is a meritocratic one, based on hard work and talent, rather than qualifications or background – sentiments echoed by Lizzie, who aspired to work in management in hotels:

"I'd like to stay in the sector, it's all I've ever really done, it's easy, I think it's easy, this industry is definitely not for the light-hearted, I said that the other night, but if you've got a grasp on it, and you're good at it, you'll go places."

Lizzie, 23, waitress in island resort

However, participants who expressed wishes for progression simultaneously identified a number of barriers to such progression. In Lizzie's case, for example, she had recently taken a demotion from a supervisor position to a waitress position in a different venue because she had felt over-worked and underpaid in her previous job. Similarly, Tony was no longer working in management due to a knee injury and an associated loss of confidence in his capacity to cope with the hours and physical demands of being in restaurant management. Another participant, Mike, similarly told us that he saw the hospitality industry as offering great potential for progression, although he too had recently moved from a management position to a zero-hours contract as a bartender in a local pub, due to experiences of burn-out and depression, which he linked to years of over-work and under-pay in hotel management (see worker story in Chapter Two).

Other participants identified the increased responsibility but relatively small increases in pay at higher positions as a key barrier to progression, as was the case for example with Alek and Hannah (see worker stories in Chapters Two and Three respectively). Other participants identified 'paperwork', the stress of managerial responsibilities, and other administrative pressures as a reason for avoiding progression opportunities. For example, István described his concerns about progression:

"I could go to the management part of the things, like I could become a general manager, or a supervisor or whatever, but obviously I just … I'm just not interested in this job, because I have to do management already, and it's just so painful sometimes."

István, 34, head barista in a specialist coffee shop, Edinburgh

In another example, Lutsi explained to us why she was unsure whether she wanted to move from a supervisor position to a manager position in the large coffee shop chain where she worked. She highlighted concerns not only about the added responsibility and lack of extra pay, but also pressure created by the lack of "leeway" afforded to individual managers by the larger company:

"No, it's tricky, probably I would like to be store manager, but it's more paperwork and like it … you know, opening my own coffee shop, very complicated, but would I even like to do it, not sure. I'm probably not ambitious enough, yes probably. Even now it's like more money would be nice, but also it's a headache. It isn't really worth it…Even more responsibility. Because it seems like that kind of big chain, so little bit of what you can do, but you're responsible for everything at the same time. It's like you know, you have to think about it … how you're going to explain it when you're asked, if you want to, you know, computer says you're supposed to have four people at that time, maybe we could have five. Or I'm quite sure it's going to be very quiet day, we could have three… leeway is just not there. But saying you have to keep up sales, and close the sales, and how can you close the sales, when your computer says you can't have extra person to do sampling or actually a little bit of time to do some sampling and get staff in."

Lutsi, 41, barista in coffee shop, Aberdeen

Finally, another participant, Tom, identified long hours and over-work as a barrier to progression in his current job, although he also commented that in previous jobs his progression had been hindered by a lack of formal recruitment procedures, which he equated to "nepotism":

"I've told them that I'm not keen on progressing because…my boss now doesn't do anything apart from work….I would never want to put myself into that. She works on her way to work, she comes to work, and works until she goes home, and works. And, she doesn't even ... her days off, she says she spends just answering emails. So, it's not really ... it's not worth it."

"I've worked places before and it's been quite, what's the word, it's obvious [that] nepotism is rife in some work places, because…say a manager leaves, the other manager will pick their favourite person. There's never any due diligence, there's never been a recruitment process, it's just been right, well, they're in line. So, it's like well, what about me? I'm not getting a chance to apply for it."

Tom, 35, assistant manager in a café in a tourist venue, Edinburgh

6.2 Training

6.2.1 Overview of training experiences

The majority of the hospitality workers in our sample reported having received some 'on-the-job' training, typically involving shadowing an existing member of staff for anything between one shift to two weeks, depending on their existing experience. To give an example, Andrew described the training he received on starting work at a coffee shop, having never worked in hospitality before:

"Obviously I got the training when I started and that was just initiating into the job and understand all the things that I had to do like how I would be doing them and how the café does it. But I haven't received any formal training. I haven't got any qualifications out of it, it's just the experience and the skills I need to do my job… It's a learn on the job experience really…But again that was…the name of the game really as I learnt things and got myself on the right page. If I had a question and I said hey, I've just been asked to make a flat, white and I have no idea what that is because I didn't, what do I do, you'll have to show me and you might have to show me again because, and another time because there's a lot of things to learn at the beginning."

Andrew, 21, undergraduate student and part-time waiter in a coffee shop, Edinburgh

This is how Birodh, a chef in an Indian restaurant, described training in his workplace:

"With training, normally, we help each other, we give advice, but we haven't had any training yet…We gain experience by working and preparing dishes, is this better, is this?"

Birodh, 30, chef, Stirling

István, a head barista in a specialist coffee shop, described to us the relatively informal nature both of his progression to his current job, and of the training he received:

"We have a head of operations… and she just asked me 'oh, do you want to be the next head barista of this kiosk and [I said] "yes of course, what do I have to do?" Yeah, because we had problems with our previous head barista, but that's another story. And yeah, basically the training was not so accurate, so I had to train myself, and then sometimes report to my manager. It wasn't a formal training, and yeah, after a couple of months, we just did a quick test, and yeah, the head of operations said okay, I sign you off, you'll be the new head barista."

István, 34, head barista in a specialist coffee shop, Edinburgh

Some of the hospitality workers we interviewed, however, had been required to do more formal, typically online, training courses by their employers on subjects such as health and safety, first-aid, allergies, or serving alcohol. Those who worked for larger organisations were also more likely to have received formal training materials, although one worker that we interviewed – a barista in a chain of coffee shops – reported that this material was not very accessible:

"You're given this book, you have to basically work with whoever is going to teach you. But quite often it's done too fast, you know, not [enough] for starting someone on work, also [it's] like school paperwork, it's a lot, it's like huge, thick A4. It's too much for people who don't pay attention."

Lutsi, 41, barista in coffee shop, Aberdeen

Tom, a manager in a café in a tourist venue, also expressed concern that the training materials provided by the company that owned the coffee shop were not very effective:

"We give them training modules…we've got four. So, when they start they've got a week. you'll get paid for a week, without actually doing any work, as long as you complete the flow training. And, that's like an online step-by-step about how things work, how to do things, sort of like the basic food safety food challenges, and the food safety certificates as well….But they just don't seem to absorb the information as well. So, then they just burn through it, and that's it…. It's just the corporate training, the company's made [that] up. So, it's just like a standardised thing across the board."

Tom, 35, assistant manager in a café in a tourist venue, Edinburgh

Finally, we spoke to a number of hospitality workers who had been offered or who had pursued more formal qualifications and/or more lengthy training in certain areas. For example, we spoke to two co-workers who worked in a wine bar, both of whom had completed a qualification in wine (WSET level 2) sponsored through their employer. We also interviewed some chefs who had undertaken more extensive training courses, for example Alek, who was studying for a diploma in hospitality management in the hope of opening his own restaurant, and Benci, who was completing courses in cooking in order to pursue his ambitions of becoming a fine-dining chef. We also spoke to two other chefs who had completed 'stages' – a form of unpaid work experience – for several weeks in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants, in order to improve their skills and experiences through observing more-skilled chefs. As with Benci and Alek, these were training opportunities that these chefs initiated themselves, funded themselves where necessary, and did alongside their existing responsibilities at work. We also spoke with Jack, a chef in a pub in Glasgow, who was pursuing a qualification in brewing and distilling, with the hopes of opening up a venue one day.

6.2.2 Navigating a lack of training

Despite a relative lack of formal training, many of our participants stated they had not faced any significant difficulties due to a lack of training and that they did not believe that they needed more training. Some participants did, however, report that either customers, or other staff members, had expressed frustration at them for being slow or making mistakes while they were still learning. Andrew, for example, whose description of the limited training he received in the coffee shop was described in the previous section, told us how his manager reprimanded him harshly for making a mistake on one of his first shifts in the job:

"There was one time where…I'd literally just got on shift and this was one of my very first shifts and I took a plate out to the wrong table. It was like a brunch plate instead of a breakfast plate. And a customer started eating it and then I realised and my manager had realised as well. And then I froze and I was like, oh, they've started eating it, they seem pretty satisfied with the plate and maybe I'll just let, not tell them and not worry about it. I was just standing there, oh, shall I do anything, what do I do? And the manager went over to them and let them know. They were happy to eat it, but obviously he had to alert them for allergy reasons and just to let them know because some people might not have been happy and it's just the done thing. And, he had a little go at me. And, this was literally one of my first shifts.. He did have a bit of a talking to with me. And, obviously, it was quite harsh.. I wasn't too happy with that, but it's intense and there's a lot going on. So, it probably wasn't meant to be as harsh as it was. He just said you need to be on the ball; you need to come in here and make sure these things are done right….He said like we're better off not having you if you're going to make mistakes and not try and fix them and what not. And, I just thought that was quite harsh because this was like my third shift or something."

Andrew, 21, undergraduate student and part-time waiter in coffee shop, Edinburgh

By comparison, Maria felt this frustration more from customers while she was still learning how to make coffees:

"There are very few to be honest, I have worked there long enough, but I've never had a very, very difficult customer, like, I think the worst I got was like people, kind of like think, they're being impatient because at the beginning I was quite slow, and I had to rely on someone else coming to show me and so on, and also I had kind of my induction. I think I had about two weeks of training, obviously, I was quite slow, so, I could tell that people were a bit impatient, but I didn't get anyone being rude or anything like that, so, I think maybe I was lucky and I've not spilt anything on anyone yet."

Maria, 38, barista in coffee shop, St Andrews

In a slightly different example, István, a head barista in a coffee shop, reported having been put under stress when he was expected to perform the roles of a manager, without adequate training:

"The supervisor left without any handover and obviously [I] didn't know about some parts of his job, like dealing with all this paperwork or everyday issues in the shop. In the end we had an audit and everything just fell back on me. And I'm not trained, I don't know what to do, and it was a really, really stupid situation. And I have to deal with something that I'm not trained for, and yeah, it was unprofessional, so obviously it was a bit stressful but at the same time, I just tried to cover myself with different moves and okay, if somebody wants something from me, I do have the proof that it's not my responsibility."

István, 34, head barista in a specialist coffee shop, Edinburgh

It is noteworthy that those participants who stated that they were content with their relative lack of training typically cited one of two reasons for this: either it was because they saw their jobs as temporary or secondary to a longer-term ambition or job in another industry, or it was because they felt that their job was best learnt through experience. The following two quotes illustrate this latter point:

"I would say [I don't need any more training] because I think because I've been doing it for so long you know and I've got enough life experience and because I've always worked in hospitality, always had it as a part time role that yes you know it is cash handling, speaking to people, giving out food, answering the phone to take orders, deal sometimes with some complaints if they're not happy with it. So all of the hospitality roles, you know it's all been very similar tasks, you know whether it's giving out food, whether it's giving out drinks, cash handling, I've basically been doing it for decades."

Julie, 57, full-time administrator and part-time front-of-house in take-away, Glasgow

"I do [feel I have had enough training for the new job] because it's like riding a bike, you never forget how to pour a pint."

Caroline, 64, bartender in golf club, Perthshire

6.2.3 Views on training opportunities

While many of our participants felt that they did not need to receive more training, others expressed an interest in undertaking further training. For example, Lizzie, a waitress in a hotel, had asked several times in her previous job to complete a first aid course but had not been given this opportunity. Hannah, the bartender whose story is described in Chapter Three, shared this view and wished her employer would open up the first-aid courses to her, rather than only to those on supervisor-level. Lizzie also stated that she would be interested on going on a mixology course to learn how to mix cocktails, as did Vicki, who currently worked in a bar but who had trained herself in cocktail-making (see worker story in Chapter Two).

Moreover, many of those participants whom had undertaken more formal training reported that this training was a valued part of their job and that it contributed to their overall satisfaction with their work. Isla, for example, stated that the promise that her employer would sponsor her to complete her next level of wine qualifications (WSET 3) was a "real incentive" to stay in her job. Benci, whose story is explored in depth below, is also a good example of how training – and, specifically, the feeling of being able to improve one's skills and progression opportunities – can provide motivation and value to those who otherwise find their working conditions relatively challenging.

6.2.4. Views on training among managers

We interviewed several hospitality managers who expressed frustrations at lacking trained and motivated staff. They told us that, despite offering opportunities for training, new staff members were not always interested in learning. These managers reported that this influenced their pace of work and distracted them from their own responsibilities. This was expressed, for example, by Tom – an assistant manager in a café in a tourist venue in Edinburgh.

"The worst thing [about today] was we're understaffed, really busy and the staff we do have, some are quite rubbish, so yeah, sometimes you move slow because the staff just haven't been trained properly. They've not had enough time, but, yeah, and I think it's also something to do with that we've hired quite a lot of young people, I think young people haven't really experienced what hospitality used to be like."

Interestingly, Tom perceived the younger generations to be less likely to work hard and participate in training compared to older workers due to their differing financial situations:

"There's a big age gap between some of them but some of them work hard, some of them don't. You can tell that some people don't pull their weight. We've got a list of people that we like, and we don't like, myself and the manager. Then I'm trying to train them properly, it's not the easiest thing in the world but we do try. There's problems with them that come from a younger generations, they don't actually know how to work hard […] whereas when you get older people they actually need the money/job to pay bills."

Tom, 35, assistant manager in a café in a tourist venue, Edinburgh

István, a head barista, expressed similar frustrations, although did not link these directly to age:

"Some of them doesn't want to learn more and they are not proactive and I always have to tell them please go to the storeroom check what we need and they are just somehow not able to do that. Or they just don't want to do that or they just don't care."

István, 34, head barista in a specialist coffee shop, Edinburgh

By comparison, Jessica, a manager in a wine bar, expressed how she and her bosses try to provide opportunities for new staff members to prove themselves, despite knowing not everyone they hire will be suitable for the post.

"I think even the bosses, they know that not everyone that you employ is going to work out. They're quite realistic on the fact that we've employed about six new people and three of them might not work out. If that happens then fine, but we need to give them, make sure that we've done everything we can to train them and to make sure we are giving them the best opportunity and we're not dismissing them straight away and we're giving them an opportunity to prove themselves and that we are offering them that opportunity to do so."

Jessica, 38, wine-bar manager, Glasgow

Workers' Experience of the Hospitality Sector

Worker Profile

Name: Benci

Age: 52

Nationality: Hungarian

Residency: Moved from Hungary 6 years ago, now lives in a small town in Scotland with his wife and two children.

Work History: Graphic designer in Hungary. After arriving in Scotland, he started working in a factory. Now he trains and works as a chef.

Takeaway: Happy with job and excited about prospects for progression, but long hours affect his mental health and the time he spends with his kids.

Benci moved to Scotland from Hungary with his wife and two children almost six years ago. He described the move as motivated by a search for "better opportunities" for himself and his family. He had worked as a graphic designer in Hungary although on arrival in Scotland he obtained work in a factory as a manual labourer – work that he did for around four years. He did not enjoy this work, however, in large part because he experienced discrimination from other colleagues for being a "foreigner", as he described to us:

"I wasn't fitting in well at the factory, because of my language and my identity…because I'm a foreigner, the people are, don't want to, didn't want to accept this situation, and I was abused, bullied a little bit…I think because there was a lot of uneducated people, and they just talking what they're hearing….I was a little bit over educated, and they were, I don't know, maybe just jealous or maybe, I don't know, I don't care."

Over a year ago, knowing of his struggles in the factory, a Hungarian friend suggested he take a job as a commis-chef in a restaurant in a hotel in the Highlands – around 60 mins drive away from the small town where he lived in south-west Scotland. Since then, Benci has developed a passion for cooking and is currently pursuing his ambition to work as a head chef in a fine-dining restaurant – work that he described as creative, skilful and challenging. After a few months of working at this hotel, he enrolled and completed a Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) course in cookery at a local higher education college. At the time of interviewing, he had completed Level 5 and was pursuing Level 6. He described the decision to study as his own choice, rather than a necessity in the business:

"It was my idea, because what I usually do, I'd like to do academically, so, I need to learn not just from the other people, so, I'd like to do this academically."

Benci also decided that he would benefit from working in a kitchen that was more focused on fine-dining, and so he applied for and obtained a job as a trainee chef in a fine-dining restaurant in a local market town, around a 45 minute drive away. He is paid £9.50 in this kitchen and works 30 hours a week, primarily in the evenings and weekends in order to fit around his ongoing studies. He described the kitchen as a "professional kitchen" which always paid fairly and accurately, and which did not experience staff shortages, meaning he was never asked to work beyond his contracted hours.

Reflecting on his pay, Benci commented that he was content with his level of pay because he saw the training that he was receiving at the restaurant as invaluable for his progression prospects.

Interestingly, Benci described his training both in his first job at the hotel, and in his current job at the restaurant, as an informal training programme that centred around a good working relationship with his more senior colleagues. He described working in the hotel as follows:

"I was anxious, excited, but full of joy and hope and I was lucky, because [the chef], she [gave] me everything, at the beginning, how could I do things better? Faster? Tastier?... everything what I learnt…was from her…she [mentored] me… and after I started my studies, at the college, I just improved my knowledge."

He described similar positive relationships with the head chef and sous chef at his current restaurant, whom he praised for the time they took to set him new challenges and to answer his questions. Again, he described training as a process of observing, being set new challenges, and asking questions:

"My sous chef, he is educated, he came from Italy and he has got skills, explaining the things, make the things in a good way and he is training me. The head chef, he wasn't educated, but he has got a lot of experience, he's so professional and he hasn't got too much skill to explain things, but he can show me…So, one of them speaking, another one moving, so… All the time, they told me there is no stupid questions, all the time you question, make the questions, ask everything. If I think it's a stupid question, it doesn't matter."

Benci also emphasised how success in training is a two-way relationship, as it's dependent not only on the approach of the senior chef but also on the will and ambition of the trainee chef:

"But it's up to the person, so, if someone doesn't want to learn, why should I waste my time, because my time is so precious, and for once for example, still doesn't want to improve, increase their knowledge, why should I help anymore. So, it's about a deal between two people I think."

When asked, Benci told us that he had heard plenty of stories of abusive relationships in kitchens, and chefs that bully their workers. He said that, by contrast, he had found both the kitchens that he worked in to be tight-knit "family" environments that were very supportive. He said he had never experienced in the kitchen the sort of discrimination that he had in his factory work. At the same time, elsewhere in our interview, he also recounted a few instances of being shouted at or treated badly by his head chef. For example, when asked what he thought could improve in the hospitality industry, he replied that he thought people need to learn more patience:

"Yes, patience, I tell you this because in the hotel, it wasn't all the time, from my boss, she wasn't, how can I say? So, she shouted at me once, and I just discussed with her, I don't like this behaviour and because she hasn't patience, you know."

He also described his first few weeks in his new restaurant, where he felt that his two senior chefs were "testing him" by putting him under pressure:

"I think it was my first month, I was thinking, I'm going to leave this kitchen, because both of my chefs are shouting at me, for example…you need to learn more, faster, you need to do this, if I show you once, twice, you need to do it now! Or I was a little bit anxious and…I had to take five in the fresh air, because I had to make myself better… This happened at service, during the service, and my head chef just shouted at me…concentrate on the service, blah, blah, blah. I came home, and I told my wife, 'it's not working for me' and I just think about the things and processed everything, and I thought I'm going to give it one more shot, one new shot, and I go to the kitchen and do my job and things changed…It was kind of a test, how could I feel myself, under the pressure, what am I doing when I'm in the pressure, under the pressure? So, nothing, so, it never happened again…. I understand now it's because they don't want to teach to someone who [does not] want to learn. They don't shout at me anymore."

Benci told us that, following this incident, he realised that he cannot take breaks during the service, and that, therefore, he has to find a way to manage the anxiety he experiences when under pressure to deliver dishes on time and to high quality. He told us that he asked for advice from his sous-chef on this issue recently:

"That was my question yesterday, how could I manage my stress better at the workplace? So when I'm getting stressed and frustrated, what can I do? And he told me a couple of tricks [that] could make me calm. So, yes he's a very good guy…..So, concentrate just on one thing at a time, not so, everybody says working in the kitchen is multitasking, but if I have got five or six orders, so, just concentrate on one at a time, and the second and third, and keep on. So, and I will see the stress is getting less, the frustration is getting less and my brain just growing and growing, and just do things, like easily."

Benci told us that he has plans to continue his studies by completing Level 7 of the SVQ course, which will involve his head chef sponsoring him on a work placement – something that this chef has not done before but is happy to do for Benci. Benci also has hopes to study for an undergraduate degree in Culinary Arts in Edinburgh. He hopes that his chef will allow him to reduce his hours but stay on at the kitchen while he completes these studies, although he has not broached this subject with him yet.

While Benci reported being very happy with his job and excited by his prospects for progression and further training, he did note that his long hours had affected his mental health, as well as the amount of time he had to spend with his children.

"My mental health it's a little bit less, because I couldn't sleep well [because] I arrive home late at night, and I need to wake up early… [I finish, the drive is 45 mins] then I go to bed sometimes, it's midnight or half twelve. [In the morning] I need to go to the school and I need to take my kids to school [and then be in college] from nine to half four….

I try to, spend my time with my kids, if I can and make them precious times. But it's not enough, not enough, so, and I can see it's affecting them…their emotional feelings."