Pret A Manger hunts for British staff to plug Brexit gap

Pret boss Clive Schlee is 'reaching out' to British workers. Picture: Pret A Manger/PA Wire
Pret boss Clive Schlee is 'reaching out' to British workers. Picture: Pret A Manger/PA Wire
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The chief executive of sandwich chain Pret A Manger has said the group is “reaching out” to British applicants as it looks to plug a looming recruitment gap caused by Brexit.

Clive Schlee said the group is taking a proactive approach to tackling fears that the UK’s exit from the European Union will leave it struggling to staff its cafes, by advertising on social media and working with job centres.

We used to wait for people to come to us, but we’re reaching out to more British applicants

Clive Schlee

Pret’s head of human resources last month revealed fears of a recruitment crisis because just one in 50 of its job applicants is British. The chain has 14 shops in Scotland, employing nearly 230 people.

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Schlee said: “We used to wait for people to come to us, but we’re reaching out to more British labour applicants through social media and job centres.”

Pret, which last year created 839 full-time jobs, recently revealed it is launching a programme this summer to offer 500 week-long paid work experience placements to UK school students.

Schlee said he was “encouraged” by UK government plans to head off recruitment woes for the hospitality industry with a new “barista visa” mooted to allow young European citizens to continue coming to the UK to work in coffee shops and pubs.

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His comments came as the group posted a record set of full-year results, with worldwide sales rising 15 per cent to £776.2 million in 2016, while operating profit grew 11 per cent to £93.2m. Like-for-like sales rose 4.8 per cent.

Schlee said the pound’s fall since the Brexit vote had been a double-edged sword, helping boost trade as it has driven tourists to the UK while also sending up costs of many ingredients.

Many of Pret’s 250 UK shops are based at major transport hubs, such as airports and railway stations, which have been benefiting from tourist trade.

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He pledged to keep price rises below inflation despite seeing costs of imported ingredients rise, with salmon, avocados and crayfish particularly impacted as supply issues have also taken their toll.

The group, majority-owned by private equity firm Bridgepoint, hailed sales of its dairy-free coconut porridge, which accounts for one in five porridge sales in the UK.

The firm also opened its first vegetarian-only pop-up shop in London’s Soho last year, which will now be made permanent, with a second Veggie Pret opened earlier this month in Shoreditch.

Its overseas trade was boosted by a strong showing in the US, where sales broke the $200 million mark for the first time in 2016.

Bridgepoint is reportedly considering a stock market flotation within the next 18 months, with speculation that bosses are eyeing New York rather than London.

But Schlee remained tight-lipped on any potential listing, saying it was a “matter for the shareholders”.

Pret opened 50 new shops during 2016 – including 31 in the UK – taking its total to 444, and Schlee said the 500th branch is set to open over the next 12 months.

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