Nicky Forrest interviews Michelle Brampton

The future of the drinks industry relies on bringing new people into the industry and making sure that they have the skills and knowledge to succeed.  Your role as the leading person globally in drinks education brings with it a huge responsibility but also huge opportunities.  What are some of the challenges and opportunities that you see? 

One of the reasons I took the role at WSET was I could see the part that it could play in shaping the future of the drinks industry. WSET has a very unique and neutral position in the trade; which means that it can put aside any political and commercial issues and connect with anybody. One of the things that I'm most passionate about is connecting people or organisations for a better outcome - driving conversation and collaboration to make a difference and it’s here WSET can play a pivotal role and create opportunities on a broad scale.   

One of the key challenges for educating people in any field is accessibility; how do you create opportunities for anyone, to help make the industry more diverse and inclusive and how do you make it affordable? One of the things that we have introduced since I've been here is our Partnership Programme which is focused towards social impact projects with the view of shaping the future of the industry. For example, in the UK, we provide bursaries via The Drinks Trust for those who can’t afford our courses which provides social mobility. We are supporting Aidy Smith with Drinklusive the UK’s first ‘inclusivity incubator’ and Women in Beer UK with courses and mentorship.

Globally; in Australia we are working with the National Indigenous Culinary Institute so that indigenous people can access training, in South Africa with BLACC (Black Cellar Club) and in the USA with The Roots Fund. The WSET has a key role to play in connecting people and groups and by aligning our Partnerships Programme with our ESG agenda, particularly the social element, which drives social impact projects we can educate, recuit and support a more diverse workforce into the trade which will help to futureproof it.

You mention bringing a more diverse workforce into the industry and you are involved in Drinks United, an initiative being spearheaded by The Drinks Trust, the WSTA and WSET.  Can you tell me why you got involved and what you are hoping to achieve? 

The Curious Vines survey highlighted an urgent need for change in the industry and it created a real momentum.  As the three trade hub organisations we wanted to come together to try and drive that change.  I believe we have a responsibility to do the right thing and support those that don’t experience the drinks industry in the right way. We are working with an expert ED&I advisory council to help steer the programme and we are currently also hiring a project manager to help to lead the initiative and create a more diverse, inclusive, equitable and safe industry for all.

I know that you’ve not always been in the drinks industry but have always been a champion of building strong and inspired teams.  Can you share with us how you feel that your early career prepared you for your current position?  

I have a very strong set of values which include being curious to learn, building strong and empowered teams, collaborating and being inclusive. I’ve been in consulting roles before where these values were compromised and that took me on a different path and into the drinks industry where I’ve been able to live those values. 

I have learned a lot from the people around me, both good and bad. In fact, I believe more from bad experiences than good ones and as a leader I’ve learned that it’s really important to me that I show that I am fully engaged, that I care and that I take the responsibility seriously.  That’s key if you want to build a thriving team that can drive change, do the right thing and feel a sense of purpose. 

What advice would you have for those in other sectors to use their transferable skills and join the drinks industry? 

I touched on this with the WSTA recording for International Women's Day and the main point is that there are many different roles in the drinks industry.  You can do anything from agriculture all the way through the supply chain to marketing and sales and everything in between from logistics to accounting.  There are so many facets to the trade that that anybody could get into it and learn the industry nuances along the way. It’s an amazing and fun industry to be in.

What one piece of advice were you given in your career that you live by? 

One piece of advice I was given, was that opportunities don’t often come along at the right time, that would make them a certainty, so find a way to take them when they do arise!