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Ep 457: Employability and Social Mobility


Some of my favourite discussions on this show have been with employers driving diversity, equity, and inclusion, not just because it is the right thing to do but because they are using their DE&I strategies to solve specific business challenges.

My guest this week is Graham Briggs, Head of Apprenticeships & Employability Programmes at Greene King, the UK’s largest pub retailer and brewer. The hospitality sector has had an extremely challenging few years. Greene King has been running some incredible programmes to reach diverse talent pools and deliver positive outcomes for their business and the communities they work with.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The recruiting challenges in hospitality

• Challenging perceptions about career development

• Employability and social mobility

• Communities and values

• Untapping potential

• The importance of C-Suite support

• Partnering with external organisations to reach out to new pools of talent

• Delivering positive outcomes for young people

• Building confidence and focusing on wellbeing

• Working with prison leavers

• Support, development and retention

• Business outcomes and results

• Working with other employers to lobby government

• Advice to TA leaders looking to build similar programmes

• Plans for the future

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Eightfold AI (0s):
Support for this podcast comes from delivers the talent intelligence platform, the most effective way for companies to retain top performers, upscale and rescale the workforce, recruit top talent efficiently, and reach diversity goals. is deep learning artificial intelligence platform that empowers enterprises to turn talent management into a competitive advantage.

Matt Alder (48s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 457 of The Recruiting Future Podcast. Some of my favourite discussions on this show have been with employers driving diversity, equity, and inclusion, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they are using their DE&I strategies to solve specific business challenges. My guest this week is Graham Briggs, Head of Apprenticeships and Employability Programmes at Greene King, the UK’s largest pub retailer and brewer. The hospitality sector has had an extremely challenging few years. Greene King has been running some incredible programmes to reach diverse talent pools and deliver positive outcomes for their business and the communities they work with.

Matt Alder (1m 39s):
Hi, Graham, and welcome to the podcast.

Graham Briggs (1m 41s):
Hi, Matt. Great to be here.

Matt Alder (1m 43s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do.

Graham Briggs (1m 49s):
Yep. My name’s Graham Briggs and I’m the Head of Apprenticeships and Employability Programmes at Greene King. So my role is for the apprenticeship offered across the business and a number of socialability programs that we offer.

Matt Alder (2m 2s):
I really want to get into all the details around that because you’ve got some amazing insights and stories to share. But before we do, though, there may be some listeners, particularly people outside of the UK, who aren’t familiar with Greene King and what you do. So could you tell us a little bit more about the company?

Graham Briggs (2m 19s):
Yeah, so Greene King, we are a managed pub and brewing company. So we’ve got our head office in Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, which is in East Anglia. So to the far east, for those that are outside of the UK that aren’t familiar. We’ve got 1600 managed pubs, hotels, and restaurants dotted across England, Scotland and Wales. We also have around a thousand leased and tenanted sites where we own the property and we support those tenants by selling some of our produce. And then we’ve got a number of different beers that we produce. So, Greene King IPA, Abbott’s, old speckled hen, just to name a few that some of the listeners might have come across when they’ve been in not just Greene King pubs, but other pubs as well.

Matt Alder (3m 6s):
I’ve spent many years being very familiar with old speckled hen. [Laughs]

Graham Briggs (3m 11s):
It’s a very popular beer.

Matt Alder (3m 14s):
Absolutely. So obviously they’ve been huge amounts of headlines all over the world about the recruitment challenges in the hospitality industry at the moment. Tell us what you’re experiencing now. What are the actual challenges that you have as an organization when it comes to recruiting?

Graham Briggs (3m 29s):
I think one of the challenges that has been within hospitality for years, going back before Brexit, many a year before that was that the challenge was around recruitment of chefs and kitchen staff. And that’s not really changed over the years. And there are obviously a number of programs that we’re introducing and they are all aimed at trying to just help support the business in finding the best talent that’s in the UK. I think there’s also an element of now more than ever, it’s very much a candidate-led market. The UK government introduced an initiative called Kickstart, which was part of their plan for jobs to help boost the economy when we were coming out of the pandemic.

Graham Briggs (4m 14s):
And that was all intended to really benefit businesses. But with that, we just saw a lot of more vacancies go out across different platforms and the people that were there looking to see where they wanted to work had so much choice. So they really can decide where they want to go. And then lots of businesses and industries have changed with some of their own working habits and conditions. Now, you know, we still got to turn up in person to open a pub, cook, and serve food and drink. You can’t do that working from home. That is something where we’re just really keen to shout about what the career can be like in hospitality. Cause sometimes that’s one of the other challenges is still the perception that you can’t have a career in hospitality.

Graham Briggs (4m 59s):
When in fact this is an industry you can join without any qualifications in a particular area, but you can really develop, hone those skills and progress through the business. And we’ve got plenty of examples where people have started at a team member level, which is entry into our business. And then within three or four years, they’ve progressed to a pub manager role, which is a 1 million pound plus turnover business managing up to 70-80 people in one particular location. So that perception out there and how we educate people is probably one of those that we’re, you know, us at Greene King and many other within the industry are keen to kind of educate and increase the awareness to hopefully break down some of those challenges.

Matt Alder (5m 44s):
Yeah. I know that is something that you’ve been doing a lot of work around as well. Talk to us about employability and social mobility and how they fit into your strategy or how they’re part of the solution to the challenges that you have.

Graham Briggs (5m 60s):
So with so many locations where we’re operating across the UK, we’re in communities everywhere. So that the pub is really that place that really can bring the communities together. And you can see how the group business really got behind some of those initiatives when the pubs were closed because of the pandemic. There was amazing work going on with food and drink donations to charities. Banners going up for the NHS to say “Thank You”. People volunteering and helping out. We worked with…we partnered with Macmillan Cancer Charity.

Graham Briggs (6m 42s):
We’ve smashed off fundraising targets within the year, even though the pubs were, you know, some locations were closed, some were still under different restrictions. And that whole element just feeds into one of our values at Greene King, which is we care. And we care is really about how we provide people opportunities from all walks of life. And that’s where our social ability programs come in. And we launched Untapping Potential, which was a report a couple of months ago in the House of Commons. And that sets out everything that we’re looking to deliver and achieve with huge plans going forward. So it’s only really possible when you’ve got one, the backing from your CEO and the exec board, but to all your colleagues in the business, because they love developing people.

Graham Briggs (7m 33s):
They love nurturing people, and seeing them progress. And actually some people will need more of a helping hand than others, but these programs are just brilliant and the number of different programs I’m sure you can ask in a moment what we’re delivering, but we have so many literary from supported internships, that’s people with education, health care plans. And then we’ve got our prison leaver program. We’ve been doing some work around the refugee resettlement. We got Prince’s Trust and we just keep evolving. And we’re just looking for the next opportunities where we can partner with some of the, you know, some of the best organizations across the UK, who have the experience and have some of the contacts.

Graham Briggs (8m 16s):
And it really is a partnership to support people and give them that opportunity that they might not have had.

Matt Alder (8m 22s):
You obviously mentioned there that you’ve got a number of programs, sort of reaching out to lots of different communities and, you know, lots of people in lots of different circumstances. You mentioned sort of a few of the potential talent pools that you work with there. Tell us a little bit more, maybe just about one or two of those and what you’ve been doing.

Graham Briggs (8m 41s):
The Prince’s Trust is who we started off with about six years ago now. And that’s lots of people would know the Prince’s Trust already, if they’re in the UK. A larger charity than some of the others we’re currently dealing with, but they are an organization supporting people from disadvantaged backgrounds and we deliver a number of different programs with them. We do a two week program, which is called Get Into where we have a mixture of classroom sessions and somebody works several shifts in one of our pubs. So just to build up the experience and the knowledge. And it’s a bit of an extended recruitment program.

Graham Briggs (9m 23s):
And the other one is Ready to Work, which is a one-day assessment followed by a trial shift in one of our pups. All are intended to deliver positive outcomes, which is employment. So the data that The Prince’s Trust were able to share with us showed that two thirds of the young people that were on universal credit were actually removed from the jobs market. So that also is another challenge that we face. And we’re just looking at how we can reposition our partnership and where we made a pledge to support a thousand young people. And we’re looking at other ways where we can actually engage with some of that population to build up the confidence. Cause what we’re seeing is that the pandemic has really impacted wellbeing and that confidence.

Graham Briggs (10m 6s):
And that’s just one example of the role we’ve got to play in society and helping people. It doesn’t have to always lead to a job opportunity with Greene King. It might not. Some programs will deliver that naturally. As I said, as they do Get Into and Ready to Work, but then we’re working with prison populations. So we’ve launched Releasing Potential, which is our prison leaver program, in 2019. And we’ve already built up a relationship with over 40 prisons across the UK. We work with the New Futures Network, which is part of the Ministry of Justice. We’re working with amazing organizations and Only a Pavement Away and Novus and the Recruitment Junction.

Graham Briggs (10m 51s):
And they’re helping source candidates that are looking for that second chance and that, you know, the employment upon release. And we also take on people that are finishing their sentences in an open prison, where they can come out to work in a Greene King site. And then they go back into prison for the evening. And that really does support them when they are released, because there’s an opportunity there where we’re putting money into their pocket. The prisons are taxing them up to 40% with those contributions going back to victim support. But what we’re trying to do is actually provide not only a second chance, but people then have more money for when they’re released, because the discharge amount in the UK will not get you very far.

Graham Briggs (11m 37s):
If you’ve been released and you’ve got nowhere to go. No accommodation. So what we’re really trying to do is benefit society as a whole in helping to reduce re-offending by creating employment and it’s sustainable for when they’re released because they already have the job and they can just carry on working, and we’ve done it several times. If somebody needs to relocate to another part of the UK, the benefit we have with so many different sites is we can just contact managers to say, we got somebody with Greene King experience, looking to relocate. Do you have a vacancy? And thus that’s really beneficial to those that are really trying to rebuild their lives.

Matt Alder (12m 18s):
Digging deeper into that aspect of it. Obviously, recruitment is a huge thing here, but also how you sort of support, develop and retain people within the business is a critical part of this. How do you support people from the sort of areas that you’re recruiting from once they’re in your business?

Graham Briggs (12m 35s):
We do rely a lot with the partners that we’re working with. A lot of them have experience and expertise in particular areas. When we started with like prison leavers, for example, we couldn’t do it on our own because we didn’t know what we were doing. We need to surround ourselves with like-minded organizations, but those that can really support us. And then it works both ways. Cause then we can support some of those smaller organizations and help them deliver. I’ve used the words several times now. These are positive outcomes for young people. So whilst those charities are there for support, not only to the individual that we take on, but also to the line manager as well.

Graham Briggs (13m 20s):
Then we’ve also got our own benefits and support within Greene King anyways. So we have employee assistance. We have something called Wagestream, where if people need to access their wages a bit sooner, they can do so. We’ve got amazing benefits, which can really support the cost of living at the moment. And then we just try and put a buddy in place as well, but it’s really a chance just to make sure that we’re treating people like a normal Greene King employee. From day one, they’re part of the family. And if we identify any particular concerns, we can try to have that conversation and put extra support in place because everybody’s coming from different backgrounds.

Graham Briggs (14m 6s):
And, you know, for when we’d like recruiting 16 to 17-year-old apprentices, we put extra support in for those because we’re making sure that they understand exactly, like the travel routes to, and from work or where their pay slips are or when they get paid, to some of the basic things that they might not necessarily, they might be nervous about speaking to the manager of the pub, for example.

Matt Alder (14m 30s):
What are the kind of outcomes that you’ve seen within the business and the results that you got from some of these programs?

Graham Briggs (14m 36s):
So we’ve now, earlier this year, we’ve recruited over a hundred prison leavers. So I think we’re around 120 now. And we still got a number of events to go. This year, we’ve got a number of prisons we’ll be working with and doing our own recruitment days, which we’re going to, we’re just finalizing the dates for. So that’s really good to say. Supported internships. We supported 40 interns with Landmarks Specialist College of [inaudible]. They got people registered who are interested in hospitality, and they let us know where the locations are. And then we map them to where one of our sites are.

Graham Briggs (15m 17s):
The Prince’s Trust, we literally started another program recently. So we’re going to be building up to delivering four or five programs before the end of this year. And then whilst we’ve been promoting everything we’re doing around this space with the Ukrainian Refugee resettlement, we were keen to promote that we could support those that were looking for employment. And the number of people that have joined our business is increasing and increasing. And I can’t disclose that number at the moment, but from where it was before the trouble started, it’s a lot higher. So we’re delighted that we’re just doing our bit, and it might be small numbers in certain places, but as a collective, it’s still, you know, if we help one person we’re still helping one person, their friends, their family, their community, and society as a whole.

Graham Briggs (16m 5s):
I’m delighted with the progress that the programs are having. And with Kickstart, we took on over 500 young people that were on universal credit. And so far around 75% of those that completed the six-month program are staying with Greene King. So there is a lot here. And all of this is alongside our apprenticeship program, which has supported over 15,000 apprentices since we started delivering.

Matt Alder (16m 31s):
You mentioned right at the beginning of the conversation about the, you know, the support and the buy-in you had from the Chief Executive, how important is that buy-in and support from the senior leadership in the business to sort of achieve these outcomes?

Graham Briggs (16m 52s):
It’s really important. And our CEO has always supported our programs. He is really into supporting every employee within Greene King and doing the best we can, and it’s hospitality as a people business. And we’re in hospitality. We want to look after people. So if they’re working for us, or if it’s customers coming in, we want to make sure the experience is as best as it can possibly be. And our CEO is just keen that we keep doing more in this space. He’s supported de Untapping Potential report that I mentioned earlier that has been published. In there it sets out a number of different ambitions that we’ve got across the business. And I can only see it going from strength to strength.

Graham Briggs (17m 34s):
And it means, well, if ever we ask him to support one of our events or something he’s only too happy to do so, which is a testament to his skillset and character.

Matt Alder (17m 44s):
You mentioned the Untapped report again, then, and I know that you’ve been, you know, working with other companies in your industry to sort of lobby the government. Tell us about that.

Graham Briggs (17m 54s):
Yeah, as a large employer, we got to experience a number of different programs now. So, we’ve been delivering apprenticeships for 11 years now. And we have about 2000 apprentices in the program at any one time. And we then started with our prison lever program, and that was delivering just employment. But all the programs are delivering what in hospitality, we often measure 90-day retention. And we were seeing that all of the programs we were delivering were exceeding what the average was for Greene King. And there was a policy within the apprenticeships, which prevented a prison leaver from being able to start an apprenticeship.

Graham Briggs (18m 39s):
We soon caught on that, actually, why are we preventing somebody from working towards a qualification while they’re still completing their sentence and working in a Greene King site? So that’s now moved along. And we were just trying to point out the benefits of what it can bring to not only colleagues within the different government agencies for apprenticeships, but also for those within the MoJ, because we’re going to help train somebody, we’re going to help develop them. They could be completing their sentence and [inaudible] prison for three to six months and we could then develop somebody. So that when they are released from prison, they’ve literally got six months to go before completing and achieving their apprenticeship.

Graham Briggs (19m 19s):
What a massive confidence boost that will give them. And as well as the development skill set to them, potentially to progress to a higher role within the business. So those are the kinds of scenarios. And then it’s, we just like to have, is trying to remind the government, how we all need to work together and to simplify some of the initiatives, because the more employers will get on board and by employers will always need people. And they will always look to develop people. So anything that we can do to just try and educate, voice our experiences, we’ve learned sometimes the hard way from delivering some programs, but if we can share any sort of insight and advice about how we think things could be made easier, then you would have more employers get involved, which then benefits more people, more individuals seeking employment.

Matt Alder (20m 14s):
Obviously, there’s a huge amount of work going on. And, you know, so many things that you’re sort of driving forward as a business. Where does it go next? What are your sort of plans for the next sort of 12 months, two years?

Graham Briggs (20m 26s):
First of all, it’s making sure we finish this year strongly with the pus being interrupted, and we’ve been fortunate this time around we’re fully traded and the business will be preparing very much so for the World Cup and Christmas, and hopefully no interruptions such with this year that, so we’ll be making sure that we deliver as many of our programs by November and support as many people as possible. So we’re trying on a few different partnerships at the moment. We’re actually working with a few organizations in different locations just to see how they go to see if they can fit into our business. And a lot of the work we want to do is keep building on the foundations that we’ve already laid.

Graham Briggs (21m 13s):
We want to improve every program where we can. So we don’t just go through the motions of delivering a program. And we’ve just installed a training kitchen in [inaudible] site in London. So that’s a training kitchen, which is supporting offenders in the prison where we’ve got Greene King colleagues going into the prison to deliver those sessions. And the pilot is taking place at the moment. And we’re keen to kind of see how that goes. And then, you know, kick on from there in 2023, by delivering more of those programs, expand the supported intern programs and do more work with government, DWP, MoJ, and other organizations within government to see how we can play our part in supporting them to create job opportunities.

Graham Briggs (22m 4s):
There are always different initiatives that come up along the way. But the apprenticeship offer is a prime example where we’ve got over 30 different apprenticeships. We just introduced our legal apprenticeship, which was just closed the recruitment for that last week. So that’s a new apprenticeship we’re rolling out, and we’d be looking to identify new ones for 2023 as well to really build on that and help attract people to Greene King, who are within the hospitality industry, but have a number of different roles in the office, in the head office brewery support centers as well.

Matt Alder (22m 40s):
Final question. What would your advice be to other employers who are looking to build, you know, similar programs to the kind of work that you’re doing?

Graham Briggs (22m 49s):
First of all, I think, speak to other organizations that are delivering some of these programs. We speak to other organizations that are interested, on a regular basis and it’s best practice just to share your own lessons. All the employees can benefit from each other. Then just go with a pilot and see how it goes. And don’t try and deliver a massive program immediately. Just work your way up towards that. And I think just consider, have you got anything within your recruitment processes that block certain candidates from applying?

Graham Briggs (23m 29s):
Because once we do recruit prison leavers, there are some convictions that we won’t be able to employ people for because we want to make sure we continue to protect our own colleagues as well as the customers in our pubs. So it’s just a case of making sure that you’re not putting any blockers in place that it can shrink the [inaudible] that you’re trying to actually target. And then just give it a go, because if you give it a go, when we launched some of these programs, our general managers have only said positive things about these programs and just want to get more involved. So the volumes there, and then everything whichever employer will want to do is make sure that the communication across the business is clear and lets everybody know what the plans are so they can all work towards that.

Matt Alder (24m 16s):
Graham, thank you very much for talking to me.

Graham Briggs (24m 19s):
Thanks very much for your time.

Matt Alder (24m 22s):
My thanks to Graham. You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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