Restaurateurs urge young people to join ‘learn to earn’
Bermuda’s restaurants urgently require young new staff as a shortage of servers confronts an industry battered by Covid-19 and anxious to welcome back customers.
Karl Massam, head of the restaurants division for the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that the latest round of service industry training programme Learn to Earn had been “challenged“ in recruiting servers and other staff since its launch last month.
But he said restaurant owners needed to put more focus on highlighting the “soft skills” obtained on the job, to attract more young people.
Mr Massam said the service industry built confidence and equipped young workers with people skills that made them sought-after in other careers.
He said he had asked himself if restaurateurs had “rushed into this” with the launch of the latest Learn to Earn programme, which landed less than half of the hoped-for 16 new recruits into the service business.
“We’ve realised we were coming into spring and summer, and we’re chronically understaffed,” he said.
The general manager of the Yellowfin Group, which runs several Hamilton restaurants and bars, added that understaffing “isn’t unique to Bermuda – the pandemic has exposed that across our industry”.
He said a renewed push was planned for Learn to Earn as students graduate from high school in early summer, highlighting the cachet and character building opportunities of service jobs.
“You become almost like a rock star in a small island,” he said.
He added that servers get known through their high visibility in places where people often socialise as well as dining.
Mr Massam said young people who performed well in restaurants stood to benefit from the same type of “celebrity” that a popular bartender could develop.
“It doesn’t mean that service in where you’ll necessarily be in ten years.”
Mr Massam spoke with The Royal Gazette alongside Meisha Medford, head of human resources at Take 5 catering, which also participates in the programme.
Learn to Earn was first launched at the end of 2019, and the new round was announced on April 28 by Jason Hayward, the labour and economy minister.
Mr Hayward called it a “public-private partnership collaboration”, funded by restaurant, the Department of Workforce Development, Bermuda College, and the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
The minister addressed concerns over the “employability” of some young people untrained in skills such as punctuality.
Ms Medford said yesterday: “We wouldn’t be doing this if there wasn’t a real challenge getting young people into hospitality.
“We recognise it and want to tackle it, head on.”
The programme now has seven young staff instead of 16, but Ms Medford said there was a need to get the word out.
“The industry is great – it’s just not perceived that way. There’s a lot of negative communication.”
Both highlighted a misconception that restaurants paid poorly, when an hourly wage of $5.50 could translate into $20 or $30 an hour with the 18 per cent gratuity pooled among servers.
Ms Medford cited a young female server in her business whose average over the last four weeks was $20 an hour with gratuities.
“I honestly think there’s a lack of awareness,” she said. “If we as a hospitality industry aren’t controlling our narrative, someone else will control that narrative.”
She said servers often worked “some hours or shifts that are not conducive to going out partying”.
“But in this industry, you get to be part of the party. It’s happening where you work.”
Mr Massam said: “That’s what I loved about it, getting in at a young age. I was responsible for people having a great time, enjoying themselves.”
Both said young people sometimes recoiled from serving people they knew, while others were shy.
Ms Medford added: “That shyness will remain if it does not get exposed. Exposure is what builds your self confidence.
“You may still be shy or reserved, but you have confidence from your experiences. That’s really important for young people.”
Ms Medford said Learn to Earn was a “stepping stone” where it was hoped that new staff would remain in hospitality. “If they don’t, that’s OK – but it helps,” she added.
Mr Massam recalled a young man he had trained up who “fell out of love” with the restaurant business, but was picked up for a job in international business, in part through the contacts made at his server job.
The two said restaurant operators wanted to advertise more, as well as partnering with the social media manager at Bermuda College, to bring more young workers into hospitality.
“Advertising and advocacy is our biggest push,” Ms Medford said. “That way graduates can know there’s a programme for them, with no experience required.”