Countdown to Brexit: Emma Brealey, Director at Petwood Hotel Limited

Emma Brealey

With the countdown to Brexit quickly ticking away, Business Link Magazine invites a select number of the region’s business leaders to offer their thoughts.

Here we talk with Emma Brealey, Director at Petwood Hotel Limited.

Whether Britain strikes a deal with the EU or ends up with a hard Brexit, the only certainty is that innovation will be the key to survival. With primary challenges ranging from supply chain management to workforce and skills, collectively we are going to have find our entrepreneurial core and innovate our working practices and strategic thinking. From tourism and agriculture, to medical and care sectors, many county employers will be facing staffing challenges and questioning how we re-engage our local workforce in local employment opportunities.

EU workers comprise a small percentage of our Petwood team (1%) but this is highly unusual for our industry. According to a 2017 BHA report, the hospitality sector is “highly reliant” on EU workers, “with up to 24 per cent of the sector’s workforce made up of EU migrants.” Nationally, these colleagues have helped fill skills gaps and demand for jobs not met by our domestic supply of staff. These colleagues are beginning to leave their posts in the UK but who is going to fill them? This trend will continue until we have a massive cultural shift in the nation’s perception of our sector.

On the continent, a career in the hospitality industry is highly respected and an esteemed profession, whereas in the UK Brits seem to perceive the service industry through a class prism of ‘Upstairs/Downstairs’. Here is where our sector needs some post-Brexit innovation!

I was appalled to hear that a 17 year-old aspiring pastry chef was told by her school teacher to “leave the baking as a hobby and find a proper job”. We should be encouraging our young people that the hospitality sector provides skills, training and a wealth of opportunity – and that to serve is not to be servile.

The hospitality sector is not alone in struggling to find skilled workers. One of the most interesting outcomes of Brexit will be to see how British SMEs respond to challenges through innovation.