How do we fill the hole in hospitality staffing? 

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Independent Hotel Show 2021

Glenn Wallace, event manager of the Independent Hotel Show London, catches up with this year’s event speakers to hear their thoughts on the staffing crisis.

Solving the industry’s staffing crisis

If there’s one issue that’s been hitting the headlines perhaps more than most in recent years, it’s the hospitality industry’s staffing crisis. While it’s been compounded by the double-punch of Brexit and Covid, many in the industry argue that this challenge has been slowly bubbling up in the background for years, if not decades. 

The Independent Hotel Show, taking place on 4-5 October at Olympia London, will be gathering together an array of industry experts to examine the latest initiatives and approaches to recruitment, retention and professional development in the sector in a panel discussion entitled: How do we join together as a community to fill the hole in hospitality staffing? 

In the summer of 2022, a joint survey by UKHospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping, and the British Beer and Pub Association, found that nearly half (45 per cent) of operators were cutting trading hours or capacity as a result of staff shortages. The survey estimated that these measures are costing the industry £21 billion in lost revenue.

We caught up with some of the speakers taking part in the session for a sneak peek of the discussion, to hear what they think has contributed to the staffing crisis and how to make hospitality attractive for future generations of hospitality professionals.

What’s the problem? 

Sandra Kelly, skills director at UKHospitality, comments: “The industry has faced decades of challenges with staffing, with perceptions and realities of the industry unhelpful in positioning hospitality as a destination of choice for people of all ages wanting a job or planning a career. The situation has been exacerbated by Covid, Brexit, population demographics and pathways from education that are not robust or designed to build a future talent pipeline for our industry, at the moment.  

“Now is the time to tackle the staffing challenges which today not only include 180,000 vacancies but also a revolving door of retention challenges which damages culture and the working environment even further. 55 per cent of leavers seek more money and 37 per cent cited lack of career advancement, but the new reasons include re-evaluation of life priorities at a fundamental level with 33 per cent of workers under 40 considering changing jobs since Covid. 

“The ‘moments that matter’ in the workplace are exposing line managers who are not equipped with evolving line manager capability to deal with more emotional responses to situations, and the flexibility and understanding required to keep engagement high.”

Greg Früchtenicht, director of partnerships at Saira Hospitality, adds: “We’re an industry stretched to the point of distortion; if we don’t seek a new approach to sourcing, training and nurturing new talent, this crisis will never end. Physically, operators don’t have enough hands to divert the rudder away from this unpresented crisis. Mentally, operators don’t have the bandwidth to implement new approaches to our standard hiring practises. We need to work collectively as an industry to support new initiatives that help innovate and enrich our industry’s search for talent.”

Business owners and managers are stretched thin maintaining narrow profit margins, and this leaves little room for the type of care and attention that brings in newcomers to the industry. Systems aren’t in place and training is going out of the window as hospitality business owners find themselves too busy with day-to-day operations to devote time to the bigger picture. 

Sam Chance, group marketing director for hospitality community Otolo, comments that this is unsurprisingly impacting on the customer experience too, explaining: “Positive guest experience is what makes hotels successful. Operating with a reduced workforce is only going to negatively impact guest experience while at the same time adding additional stress to those that are already overworked.”

Andrew Boer, director at The Edge Hotel School and the panel’s moderator, adds: “If you talk to any operator in our industry, one of the most pressing issues is finding staff with the right knowledge, skills and mindset to fulfil the operational and management vacancies within our industry. 

“The post-pandemic unfulfilled vacancy rate of hospitality is more than 30 per cent higher than the average of other industries and this will have a direct and negative impact on the efficiency, revenue potential and profitability of the entire industry… but particularly the independent operators. 

“You could blame Brexit. You could blame Covid. You could blame politicians, but this won’t solve the problem. This is an issue that we, as an industry, need to take the lead and resolve.”

What’s the solution? 

“We need to shift our mindset away from quick wins and focus on the long game,” says Früchtenicht. “Investing in the training and development of entry level talent before they begin their career in our industry increases retention, builds stronger a company culture and plants the seeds from which a new generation of hospitality professionals will grow.”

Boer agrees and adds that hospitality must own the problem, explaining: “For too long we have been used to a benign economic and employment environment and now our complacency and lack of investment is coming back to haunt us. 

“The response must be the responsibility of each and every business to commit to enhancing the working environment, to changing the outdated image of our industry and to investing either time, money or both in making our industry a more attractive and rewarding career choice.”

Chance comments that Otolo is working to help solve the staffing problem by harnessing the power of mentoring to provide clear guidance for the next generation of hospitality professionals to build long-lasting and successful careers, adding: “This is an amazing industry to be part of, but we must drastically reduce the numbers leaving and the only way to do that is to keep our workforces inspired, challenged and ambitious.”   

UKHospitality launched its Workforce Strategy in the summer which pulls together five strong areas for action: recruitment, skills and training, working lives, image of the sector, infrastructure.

“Hospitality employers can look at the actions under these areas and design their own workforce strategy based on these themes,” Kelly explains. “One thing is for sure; the industry has never been more supportive and collaborative and clear that things need to be firmly addressed to professionalise the industry and reset the post-pandemic button with clear intentions. The rising cost of living and doing business is a sharp reminder that resilience, innovation and adaptation to change are essential to face whatever the next challenge brings.”

To catch this session at Independent Hotel Show, Olympia London on 4-5 October, along with over 25 sessions across three stages, head to independenthotelshow.co.uk to register for your complimentary trade ticket. 

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