Brewing up a brilliant career

These days you don't have to be married, or middle-aged, to run a pub, writes Roger Trapp

Simon Walker started in the beer trade for much the same reasons as many other students. He wanted to earn a little money to support his college studies. But he was so taken with working in his local pub that he gave up his landscape gardening course and opted for a career in the brewing business.

"Initially, I was just looking for work. I wasn't getting a student grant. I started doing nine hours a week. But I enjoyed it so much and the prospects looked good, so I left college," he says.

A few months later, he is a full-time relief manager with Pennine Inns, a regional division of the brewing company Scottish & Newcastle, and has just completed the latest in a series of courses designed to equip him with the theory and the practical know-how to run an establishment.

"I think I've made the right decision," says Mr Walker, 25, just before setting off for his latest assignment. "I'm loving it, it's great and there are prospects for promotion."

Concerns about the future also prompted Diana Favre's move to the company. She was previously with another organisation in the food and drink business but left because she felt it provided limited opportunities for single women.

Like Mr Walker, she did not start off with one of the specialist, hospitality- type qualifications that companies like Scottish & Newcastle traditionally look for in their trainees. Having majored in housing management in her consumer-based degree, she left college in Leeds unsure of what to do. A stint helping a friend in a catering business was followed by a spell cooking in a chalet before she joined her first management trainee scheme. As she points out, she "fell into the business rather than pursued it".

Three years ago, she joined Scottish & Newcastle and is now manager of York's Old Orleans outlet, one of 18 themed bar-restaurants the group operates around the country. Moving quickly through the ranks after her traineeship, she now has a staff of 25.

Enjoying herself immensely despite her earlier experience, she is particularly impressed by what she sees as Scottish & Newcastle's open-minded attitude to who can run its outlets. "They don't stick to the old-fashioned idea that you should be a couple to manage a site," Ms Favre, 27, says.

She and Mr Walker are indicative of the variety of young manager that the company is seeking to attract. Kim Parish, management development and training director, explained that in previous years graduates had been targeted for specific functions - such as finance, information technology and personnel.

Great emphasis was also put on recruiting for the company's restaurants, but there are also, as she says, "quite a lot of graduates in pubs". With 30,000 people in 2,000 pubs around the country, there is probably at least one graduate in about half the locations, she says.

The training programme aimed at them starts with the bar staff and is linked to a national qualification. Those responsible for running the schemes are on the lookout for future managers. Clearly, they are primarily interested in those with "good people skills and outgoing personalities".

However, the much-discussed leadership abilities are also ranked highly. A clear effect of giving people early responsibility is that they must be able to motivate others and help them to develop.

Moreover, added Ms Parish: "They must have a good business head and be a good focal point in the pub, particularly a community pub." And if that is not enough, they are expected - much like most other graduate trainees these days - to be entrepreneurs.

But far from being off-putting, this level of responsibility is felt to be an advantage. Ms Parish points out that the greater freedom is attractive to those who might otherwise go into retail, where the career paths and lines of authority are generally more structured. It is not unusual for people in their early to mid-twenties to have the opportunity to make significant capital investments, she says, adding: "People in our industry can get early responsibility and a lot of discretion."

As the examples of Mr Walker and Ms Favre make clear, the company is not too strict on the backgrounds of those it feels have the potential to meet such requirements. It points out that former teachers, Royal Navy officers and shop managers are among those running its outlets.

However, it is currently operating a scheme designed for those studying for hospitality degrees that involves 12-month work placements with the promise of a job at the end. Scottish & Newcastle has also won an award for the partnerships set up through the links made with such establishments as Ulster University in Belfast, Stafford College in the Midlands and - via Norwich College - the University of East Anglia.

For those who sign up at the bottom, there appear to be a range of options. Ms Parish claims there is a tendency for staff to stay with the company. "There are a lot of opportunities to move around. They might start in a pub and move into a more food-oriented one or head office. There is huge variety."

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