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Tackling the skills shortage in the hospitality industry

“We’re finding a lot of hotels, wedding venues, restaurants, pubs and bars [are] really struggling to attract and keep skilled and semi-skilled workers,” says Simon Hayton, CEO of recruitment firm Workforce People Solutions. “Staff including chefs, food and beverage managers and assistants, front of house, and housekeeping personnel are amongst some of the real pain-points the industry is facing at the moment.”

A 2017 study by the British Hospitality Association (BHA) predicted a shortage of 60,000 hospitality workers per year post-Brexit, and pointed in particular to chefs and front of house staff as the two roles hardest to fill.

On top of that, recent research for NFU Mutual’s 2019 Hospitality Recruitment Guide found one in five (18%) hospitality managers found recruitment harder in 2018 than in April 2017, and as many as 16% of hospitality managers who participated in the survey do not think they will be able to fulfil staffing requirements over the next five years with domestic workers.

Under strain

The skills shortage is the “key” concern for 45% of those in the industry. In addition to that, a survey conducted last year by Yougov revealed that over one in 10 hospitality workers (11%, equivalent to 330,000 staff nationally) are thinking about leaving the UK because of Brexit.

Darren Seward, hospitality sector specialist at NFU Mutual, says businesses are “stressing the huge importance of EU staff to their operations”, and many worry that Brexit will result in a smaller pool to recruit from and therefore further talent shortages.

“Some businesses already have plans in place for addressing these challenges – such as working more closely with schools and colleges – but in general, very few businesses appear to have done much planning and preparation for Brexit,” he explains. “While it’s difficult to prepare for an unknown, businesses should at the very least start thinking about how they would manage a changed employment landscape, which is how our Hospitality Recruitment.”

His concerns are compounded by the 2017 Employer Skills Survey finding that 19% of the hotel and restaurant employees are from an EU nations, more than any other industry. Looking further ahead, Hayton says the “doomsday” scenario is that some of the industry’s best loved hospitality venues, big and small, could go out of business. “If they haven’t got the staff to fulfil operational requirements, they won’t be able to maximise profitability,” he adds. “With hospitality margins already incredibly tight, that could have huge consequences. At best, the customer experience will suffer with problems such as inferior quality, longer waiting times and potentially less choice available.”

Recruitment challenges are being felt across the industry, but more so in smaller chains. “We’re seeing the skill shortage affecting businesses of all sizes. The larger chains obviously need higher volumes of these candidates to maintain operational performance, Hayton says. “We’re finding a lot of the smaller chains, chains with perhaps 3-10 facilities in their portfolio, particularly impacted though. If they have a staff shortage during particularly busy periods, the damage to reputation and profitability can really hurt.”

It is clear going forward that if the issue is not dealt with, the ramifications to the industry as a whole could be devastating. As Hayton explains: “One thing I’m sure of – if action isn’t taken now and if better forward planning isn’t introduced, the skills shortage will only get worse for the hospitality sector.

“Take chefs for example. Demand year-on-year is increasing, however according to a recent report chef numbers are down by 17% this year. Extrapolate that over the next five years and things could look pretty awful. And that’s just for one skill-set.”

Part of the issue, says HIT Training and apprenticeship portal, Get My First Job, is the industry does not appeal sufficiently to younger workers. A report by the body found 53% of 16-20-year-olds would not consider a career in hospitality. The reasons for this are it is seen as “a stepping stone to another career”, having “limited career prospects” and viewed as “a part-time job while studying”.

Arwyn Watkins, the president of the Culinary Association of Wales, sees the main issue is a people shortage saying “Not enough individuals are taking this industry as a serious career choice. Even when they have made that career choice, not enough are progressing on to the industry on completion of further education.”

Hotel big-hitters are starting to develop strategies to tackle the issue. Travelodge for example launched a new recruitment scheme launched in May. The scheme offers students a permanent job with flexible working hours designed around their study programme in their university and home locations, as the brand looks to fill 3,000 jobs this summer.

Employees will have flexible working programme, alongside mentoring and an in-house management development programme called Aspire.

It is safe to assume that if the scheme is successful, then other hotels will follow suit.

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