Business Essentials: 'Only the very best young trainee is good enough to go into our jam'

Scotts Fruits, maker of preserves, wants to recruit a school-leaver without getting into a pickle. Kate Hilpern reports
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The Independent Online

The husband-and-wife team behind Scotts Fruits, makers of preserves, have reached the stage when they would like to take on their first full-time member of staff. Preferably, they are hoping to employ a school leaver, who would gain transferable skills that could be taken into a catering career at a later date.

"We'd like to know if there are any grants available, how we should attract the ideal candidate and if there is any legislation we should be aware of," says Alan Scott.

Based in Lincolnshire, Scotts Fruits started as a pick-your-own (PYO) business in 1994 and moved into preserve production in 1999.

"Pick-your-own experienced a significant downturn in the mid-1990s and we didn't want to see our produce going to waste," explains Mr Scott. "So my wife, Doreen, began to make preserves for PYO customers and they soon became very popular."

Three years ago, when farmers' markets were coming on to the scene, the Scotts decided to use these as outlets for their jam, chutneys, lemon curd and marmalade. They have since tapped into the rise in demand for homemade, natural foods and now also sell to more than 30 farm shops, tea rooms and delicatessens across Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.

The couple are now starting to reap the rewards of the hard work they have put into their business. Their home-grown gooseberry jam was this year honoured as Best English Speciality in the prestigious Great Taste Awards, organised by the Guild of Fine Food Retailers and billed as the Oscars of the food and drink world. They also received a further award as part of the EU-funded Tastes of Lincolnshire project.

A contributing factor to the Scotts' success has been the ongoing support from the Lincolnshire Partnership, a local government body which supports local businesses and encourages investment in the county.

"While this rapid growth is very welcome, we've got to the point where we really need more help," says Mr Scott. "As it is, our only other employee is a lady who assists us on a part-time basis, along with a temporary picker over the harvest period." However, previous advertisements for a full-time assistant, placed in the local newspaper, have been unsuccessful. "The only people who responded were pensioners who didn't wish to work full time," Mr Scott continues. "Unfortunately, jam-making has an image of being an older person's pastime."

The reason he thinks a school leaver might be the most appropriate person for the job is that the traditional skills of preparing fruit and cooking preserves make a great starting point for a career in food. "Since home economics is no longer taught widely in schools, I would have thought this would be an excellent opportunity for a young person."

In fact, it's because home economics is no longer a core subject in the national curriculum that Mr Scott wants to know whether grants might be available to promote the subject vocationally.

In addition, he would like advice on how to find the right person for the job.

"When you haven't taken on a full-time member of staff before, it's difficult to know where to start. For example, where should we advertise and how should we market the job? I realise the pay will be a major incentive, but we don't know how to decide on a fair but affordable salary."

Finally, Mr Scott would like to know whether there is any employment legislation he should take into consideration. "I don't have a clue when it comes to things like working hours and employment contracts," he says.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

John Kirkham, consultant, The Work Foundation

"This is a great opportunity for you both, but recognise it as a company investment - not 'money out of the pockets of the employer'.

"An excellent source of interactive guidance can be found on the Department of Trade and Industry's Business Link website (www.businesslink.gov.uk) in the 'Employing people' section. Key issues are the hours your employee will be allowed to work, and your own responsibility to undertake a health and safety risk assessment for the job.

"Grants will depend on the location of your business, and on opportunities for job seekers and traineeships, including day release. Training is vital in attracting the right calibre of person, and you should have a training plan.

"Why not target the parents of prospective applicants by advertising this job opportunity on your stall at farmers' markets?

"Salary advice can be found at the local job centre (or look on the internet at www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk), and you must comply with the current minimum wage (see www.dti.gov.uk/er/nmw). Other useful web links are as follows: www.dti.gov.uk/er/individual.htm; www.theworkfoundation.com; www.acas.org.uk; and www.tuc.org.uk.

"Finally, if you don't find any young people interested in the position, don't dismiss the benefits of taking on a mature part-time employee and the experience they bring."

Barry Franklin, business adviser, Business Link

"The Shell Technology Enterprise Programme (www.step.org.uk), supported by the Government's Small Business Service, helps students gain project-based work experience within the small business sector.

"The Modern Apprenticeships scheme allows young people to earn while they learn, and gain skills and qualifications through professional and practical courses. For more details, go to www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk.

"The New Deal initiative (www.newdeal.gov.uk) enables employers to find people with suitable skills by allocating a personal adviser from Jobcentre Plus, who will refer only those candidates able and willing to do the job advertised.

"Under the New Deal initiative, employers can get subsidies of up to £75 a week for the first six months for full-time employees, plus up to £60 for a young person aged 18 to 24, with up to £750 towards further training.

"Employees are not obliged to work more than 48 hours a week (or 40 hours a week in the case of under-18s). If employed for more than one month, they must be given a written statement of their responsibilities.

"The main minimum wage regulations are: for workers aged 22 and over, £4.85 per hour, and for 18- to 21-year-olds, a development rate of £4.10 per hour. This lower rate can be paid to workers aged 22 and above during their first six months in a new job with a new employer, provided they are receiving accredited training.

"There is also a new young workers rate for 16- and 17-year-olds of £3 per hour, although apprentices will be exempt from this."

Sue Nickson, head of employment law, Hammonds

"As many employers are aware, employment relationships are regulated by large amounts of legislation, which provide numerous rights and obligations in respect of both parties to the contract. There are a number of things that an employer should be particularly aware of when employing a young worker.

"One is that under the Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2002, young workers who are over the minimum school leaving age but under 18 may not ordinarily work for more than 40 hours a week or eight hours in any one day.

"You should also be aware that young workers may not ordinarily work at night (11pm and 6am), although again, there are limited exceptions.

"All workers are entitled to a minimum of four weeks' paid annual leave."

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