Pret A Manger has said it will now pay its 16-18 year old work experience candidates a starting hourly rate after reports it planned to “pay them in sandwiches”.
The sandwich chain released this statement after campaigners criticised the company for offering work experience roles for free food but no pay as part of recruitment drive linked to Brexit.
The Guardian reported that the sandwich chain hoped to solve its looming recruitment crisis by offering 500 16- to 18-year-olds a week of unpaid work experience.
Following backlash from social media users, many of whom threatened to boycott the stores, Pret’s CEO, Clive Schlee, tweeted that the company would pay all participants Pret’s hourly starting rate “and of course provide free food as well”.
“Pret’s work experience week is not about making sandwiches for free.
“We set it up so that 16-18-year-olds can shadow our teams and get a flavour of what working at Pret is like.
“We’ve seen how passionately people feel about the initiative, and in response I would like to confirm that we will pay all participants.”
Only one in 50 of Pret’s job applicants are born in the UK, so the company claims it is particularly exposed to the threat of non-UK workers leaving or avoiding the country in the wake of Brexit.
Participants in the ‘Big Experience Week’ would “get exposure to aspects of our business including food production, customer service, social responsibility [care for the homeless] and financial control”, the company said.
The company will be promoting the initiative through its school leavers programme. It will also run a social media campaign to catch millennial attention.
Andrea Wareham, Pret’s HR director, wrote in a blog on the company’s website:
“Attracting British applicants is not exclusively a Pret problem, and is symptomatic of a wider cultural bias. British schools and parents don’t always take careers in the hospitality industry seriously, but they really ought to.
“The industry has changed dramatically over the past 20 years and today it is strong, dynamic and growing.”
She said the company would find it all but impossible to recruit enough staff if it were forced to turn its back on EU nationals after Britain left the EU.
Pret said it hoped to offer permanent roles to anyone who wished to apply after their work experience week and would stay in touch with those who wanted to remain in education and apply in the future.