FCSI chair admits young design bottleneck is a challenge

The new chair of the FCSI UK admits that bringing through young foodservice design talent into the industry remains a struggle.

Matthew Merritt-Harrison took over as the society’s chair late last year and faces the task of trying to grow membership numbers.

While other trade associations have been looking at ways to attract and nurture young blood, it isn’t quite as straightforward where catering consultancy is concerned. 

For a start, individuals must amass 10 years’ experience to qualify for Professional membership with the FCSI. “We are pushing to the younger generation and we want to bring them through at the Associate level, but to be Professional it is 10 years,” he explained.

As he points out, the reason an end-user typically engages a consultant in the first place is for their experience and expertise. “You could go to a client with somebody who is two years out of university, but they would probably say ‘why am I paying these fees?’ because what they are buying is experience, knowledge, reputation and impartiality.”

Mr Merritt-Harrison said there was a natural cycle however, but that it takes time to evolve.

Usually somebody will split from the equipment house, caterer or consultancy they are working for and set up their own solo venture. This scenario has generally been more common in management consultancy than design, simply because the barrier to entry is lower.

“You get a phone and a website and you’re off. With a design consultant, they need the equipment, they need the software. There is churn but it is slow and getting younger people in has been a challenge for years.”

Mr Merritt-Harrison said it was a “real shame” that there was not sufficient interest to keep the masters degree in international consultancy and catering design offered by Sheffield Hallam University alive.

It was seen as a compelling development for the industry when it was launched in 2010, but only seven individuals graduated from a course that the FCSI part-sponsored. “I have to tell you that the advantage it has given those seven people is huge. It was tough but it was a really coherent group that came from that,” he said.

The FCSI UK & Ireland recently announced its events programme for 2019, which will for the first time include a two-day forum and summer ball.

Taking place on July 17-18 at St John’s College at the University of Cambridge, it will feature panel discussions, masterclasses and a keynote speaker.

Other scheduled events this year include an educational afternoon to be held at 110 Rochester Row, London, on 28 February and an educational day at Nottingham’s School of Artisan Food on 11 September.

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