“Hospitality Staffing – a Crisis or an Opportunity?” by Rosie Hobbs

Hospitality vacancies rocket

According to Personnel Today, a magazine for HR Professionals in the UK, there are 18,000 hospitality vacancies going into the Summer-season in the UK. Those vacancies have arisen largely from Brexit where European nationals have been unable to return to the UK for seasonal work, and hotel lockdowns, where workers have found other work to do. Very challenging for hoteliers, given the restrictions on overseas holidays and staycations expected to boom this year. For some hoteliers, the lack of available staff has resulted in reduced trading times.

The situation isn’t that different in the US, where going into the pandemic there were a reported 900,000 hospitality job vacancies. With furloughs and layoffs, Amazon is now the largest private employer in the US, closely followed by Walmart, offering stable employment, high wages, and good benefits.

So, what should we do to attract and retain the new generation of hospitality workers?

At a higher level, Governments do recognise that hospitality is a key sector for their economies and, post- pandemic, recognise the financial impact of lost business in local communities. Although the hospitality industry is lobbying the UK government to provide a visa system to allow Europeans to return, so far, the government response is that we need to use and skill our own people. In September 2020, the UK Government announced a Lifetime Skills Guarantee. The guarantee aims to transform the skills system so that everyone, no matter where they live, or their background, can gain the skills they need to progress in work at any stage of their lives.  The qualifications offered will be regularly reviewed to help to meet future skills needs.  The hospitality industry, working closely with hotel schools and local partners, needs to play a part by lobbying government for hospitality skills representation and make hospitality an appealing job / career choice.  In the US the ‘Save Hotel Jobs’ Act was introduced some months ago, providing substantial grants to hotels to invest in their existing staff, or in recruiting new staff.  This Act is seen as a small part of a wider plan to transform the industry.

Personally, I’ve never regretted my decision to choose hospitality as a profession: diverse and interesting people; varied hotel operations and countries; a host of different jobs and career progression.  However, we know that there are a myriad of reasons why someone would choose to take a job in the hospitality industry, from paying for their education expenses, a little extra income for the family, to career possibilities.  HR professionals will recognise the difference between job enlargement and job enrichment and the need to make both an attractive proposition.

Have you considered?

At a local level, we need to use the pandemic as a catalyst for real and positive change in hospitality working, starting by reviewing the whole employee journey from recruitment to development and ways of working.  Involve your existing staff by asking them what would make roles more attractive.

Low pay is often cited as the difficulty in finding staff, and as the pool of available staff shrinks, it’s inevitable that wages are going to go up. The question is how sustainable these wages are once hotels move from high season to low season.  To become an attractive employer in the UK, you might consider Real Living Wage Employer Accreditation, which pays more than the minimum wage, and is independently verified every year.

However, so the saying goes, ‘money isn’t everything’.  A key factor in addressing staff shortages is how well you engage your current team.  Just as the physical hotel property is an asset, so are your people and you need to invest in them for the long-term.  If you provide a supportive culture, your team are your first ambassadors.  Use them and be creative.

How about an interesting (and fun) video posted on Facebook or Instagram? Maybe your staff talking about why they like to work for you or a ‘day in the life of…’ about a staff member.   If you’ve been really creative, it might go viral!

How are you rewarding staff members who introduce new members of staff to your team? It may well be in their interests to do so, taking the pressure off their own given role, which may have evolved into being a multi-skilled one, and, apart from generous bonuses, you might make it exciting.  Incentives might also include advertising roles on their own social media platforms.

Another way to involve your existing team members would be to design ‘recruitment cards’ with your brand name, contact details and the simple phrase ‘we are hiring’. Staff should be encouraged to distribute them when they are out and about, particularly in hospitality settings.

After wages, it will be important to review your employee benefits offering. Apart from great food and a smart uniform, consider offering a suite of benefits tailored to different types of staff – those starting out and those thinking about retirement. For example, nursery fees, chiropody, back massages. Consult your staff on what would help them. Plenty of scope for creativity here. Don’t forget the opportunities to be social in the team.  Remember to reward loyalty.

Managing the return to work

Vaccinations have made the return to work more optimistic, however, there are still those that are scared to return. A cited UK statistic is that 1 in 5 have experienced depression in UK.  Apart from ensuring that all the necessary safety and cleanliness procedures are in place, this is a time for Department Heads to engage personally with each member of staff, to understand their pandemic experience and their needs. Train your Department Heads on resilience, well-being, and mental health awareness to help them manage their teams going forward. I recently heard of one hotel who introduced mental health first aiders.

Finding personality and passion

With the decline in universities and colleges offering hospitality degrees or courses, it’s likely that new entrants will lack technical skills and work experience. In our industry, it’s always been about personality and passion, despite the advances in contactless technology. Don’t look too closely at the CV. If those competencies are in place, you can take care of the rest.

After all, in what other industry could you go from pot wash to CEO! In a recent Gallup poll, 87% of millennials claim that professional development and career growth are VERY important. Young people are hungry for training and development so start early in planning career pathways for them.  Provide variety with cross department work.

As an alternative strategy, how about deliberately seeking to bring in new entrants who are not studying for hospitality degrees or courses. IT and Business Development graduates could greatly benefit your business.

Yes, it is a short-term crisis but a long-term opportunity.

Hotel Solutions Partnership can:

  • Consult with you on a wide-range ideas on employee engagement and approaches.
  • Test how robust your Covid-19 plans are with our Hospitality Anew programme.

rosie hobbs hotel solutions partnership Rosie Hobbs is a Learning & Development expert with a long career of working with international clients. These have included Inter-Continental Hotels EMEA, Mandarin Oriental Hotels globally, Kerzner International USA, and in the Middle East, Rotana Hotels.