Hospitality Skills Shortage: Key historical issues facing hospitality compounded by Covid-19
There is currently a hospitality skills shortage with not enough people available and/or sufficiently educated/trained to provide the human resources required for the industry to fully reopen. Hospitality skills shortage has been a major issue for the industry for decades but the current decline of human resources available to hospitality is now accelerating at pace. This is due to the ending of free movement between the UK and the EU, and the lack of investment in hospitality education in the UK. As hospitality attempts to reopen the lack of a coherent long term Government strategy for the industry has disabled its ability to do so.
The full impact of the hospitality skills shortage from the Covid-19 pandemic will not be wholly appreciated for many years to come. One thing that we can all be certain of is that the pandemic has brought many historical issues faced by hospitality sharply into focus, and those issues now constrain the industry’s ability to recover from it.
The issues have one commonality, they are all about people, the lack of them. There are two key drivers causing the hospitality skills shortage, recruitment and education.
GOVERNMENT/PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF HOSPITALITY
Seen as a low skilled, low paid industry not worthy of government intervention.
Has no barriers to entry and therefore anyone can work in hospitality.
Often considered that the unemployed are the answer to hospitality skills shortage. These assumptions and mantras do not understand the geographic, and demographic structure of the hospitality workforce.
Not considered to be a “Graduate” type of industry and there is no understanding of the skills and professionalism required managing the complexities of the industry in producing and delivering high standards of service on demand.
Not considered by the education ‘establishment’ including careers advisors, and schools to be a fulfilling professional career. It is perceived by many as “below the salt”, servile rather than providing high standards of professional service.
Parents do not see or recommend the industry as a worthy career path for children whilst being avid consumers of hospitality.
No well-defined Government champion at cabinet level. The responsibilities within government for different aspects of the industry are fragmented being allocated across many departmental silos, preventing any cohesive integrated approach.
LACK OF UK PROFESSIONAL SKILLS
With the reluctance of homegrown talent to enter the industry there has been no significant development in high levels of professional skills through the training and education systems.
Professional skills where they have been developed have been through working alongside well recognised industry professionals many of whom, such as Thomas Kochs, Albert and Michel Roux, Silvano Giraldin, Raymond Blanc, and others who developed their skills in their home countries.
There is no culture for encouraging the development of higher level professional skills given the often high turnover within the industry. The latter contributes to the lack of recognition as a high-level professional career.
CONSTRAINTS ON IMMIGRATION
The lack of investment in homegrown professional skills was balanced by importing the high-level skills required through overseas recruitment. This worked extremely well during membership of the EU where the free movement of people encouraged a cosmopolitan mix of cultures to enhance hospitality through international recruitment.
The professional culture of hospitality is held in much higher esteem throughout Europe than it is in the UK, therefore the investment in skills and career opportunities is much greater in those countries. Across Europe hospitality is more valued than in the UK, this is demonstrated through the political and economic resources deployed to support the industry.
Europe has always had a long tradition of valued career opportunities within hospitality supported through wide networks of hospitality schools. Many of the schools are directly supported by the state or local & regional authorities or Chambers of Commerce. Many European nations enjoy ministerial representation within the top levels of government reflecting public esteem for their industry. The development of hospitality’s public standing in many European nations has seen education prioritised and as such recruitment issues are largely avoided.
The constraints on immigration and the need to reach wages thresholds and Visa requirements mitigates heavily against hospitality in the UK working with skilled and experienced people from the EU and further afield.
CRITICAL HUMAN RESOURCES HOSPITALITY SKILLS SHORTAGE
The critical human resource hospitality skills shortage has arisen through a number of compounding factors. These include Brexit and the decision by many EU people to leave the UK to work in Europe where they have absolute rights to work and freedom of movement across National boundaries.
There is now also a view that the UK is making it difficult for non UK nationals to stay in the UK with concerns that government have developed a hostile anti-immigration environment. The pandemic exacerbated these issues where EU citizens decided to return home as the opportunities for work declined and have yet to, if ever return to employment in the UK.
UK staff who were employed in the hospitality industry that were furloughed during the pandemic have through their previous experiences of working in customer facing roles and on shifts found alternative employment in other industry sectors. This for some has led to a better work life balance and they do not intend to return to the industry.
Another factor is, part time student employment within the industry. Those students who would have found part time jobs have largely been sent home by the universities to work online. If they have been at home, they would not have the same financial pressures of student life on campus. Therefore they do not see the financial or social need to work.
This component of the workforce is often overlooked and as things reopen students may feel reluctant to work in hospitality given number of factors including the need to interact with large numbers of individuals within teams and the public and they may not be entirely comfortable with the risk prevention measures of some employers.
Overall, even where unemployment is falling there is a clear people and hospitality skills shortage in the UK hospitality workforce, the only available short term solution is through relaxing immigration restrictions on EU nationals.
SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION IN FURTHER EDUCATION AND HIGHER EDUCATION PROFESSIONAL COURSES
Over the last decade the number of specialist professional hospitality courses available in higher education has diminished significantly. A number of very prominent universities that were seen as leaders in hospitality education have now taken strategic decisions to stop offering hospitality courses.
Some of this is due to funding, some to achieve greater utilisation of space by removing specialist laboratory facilities such as teaching kitchens and restaurants, some through strategic decisions to focus on funded research opportunities, and some who considered that hospitality as a subject did not fit within their academic profile nor ambitions to be recognised as a ‘leading university’. Academic snobbery is alive and well and at play in the world of higher education.
Within further education the key driver seems to be funding pressures related to a perceived reduction in demand for professional vocational courses within hospitality. As an example in the year 2016/17 the total number of enrolments across hospitality and catering courses exceeded 146,000. The following year 2017/18 enrolments dropped to just over 91,000. And this was pre-pandemic.
SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION IN APPRENTICESHIPS
There has been a continuing decline in the number of apprentice starts across all of the hospitality apprenticeships since 2015. It is interesting to note that there are more apprentices in accounting than there are in hospitality. The introduction of the apprenticeship levy had a significant impact on the industry as did further changes in the apprentice standards and the complexity of the new digital apprenticeship accounts systems.
Larger businesses who are paying the levy have an incentive to take on apprentices in order to recoup the levy payments, SME’s despite government interventions with such as the one off payments of £3,000 available to take on apprentices, have little real world incentive to undertake the extensive bureaucracy and complexity surrounding apprentices.
The data is difficult to completely unpick but it is suggested that a number of apprentices especially in the hospitality team member/supervisor standards may already be in employment in the larger companies. Putting individuals on apprenticeship programs under those conditions is beneficial to the company who can recover costs as there is no age constraint on apprenticeships. For example the current data shows that over 33% of apprenticeship starts as hospitality team members are over the age of 19 with a further 33% age 25+. These will not all be new starts into the industry, the data therefore can be masking the actual number of new entrant apprenticeships. As a further example within the Commis Chef apprenticeship only 41% are under the age of 19.
QUALIFICATIONS REVIEW REMOVAL OF FUNDING FOR PROFESSIONAL COURSES
The government is currently carrying out a qualification review for the removal of funding for some vocational professional courses in order to be able to shift that funding to provide funding for the new T level developments.
Objectives of review are to:
Streamline technical qualifications especially in 16-19 age range.
Develop new and robust funding approval criteria.
Removal of qualifications with low (>100) or no enrolments.
Switch funding to T levels.
This has significant implications for the industry across the range of level 1 to level 3 courses as currently offered especially at further education colleges. The decline in student enrolments in catering and hospitality courses already referred to could well be further exacerbated by the removal of those courses that have low enrolments.
However the benefits of the removal of qualifications according to the Government review document are:
High quality, more rigorous education leading to improved progression.
Qualifications must: Have a distinct purpose and be truly necessary – Support progression to successful outcomes – to higher levels of study or a meaningful job.
It could be argued that all hospitality and catering professional qualifications do have a distinct purpose, they do support progression to successful outcomes of both higher level study and a very meaningful career.
Potential issues for the industry are that should large swathes of professional vocational qualifications be removed from funding this could have the effect of reducing progression opportunities for those wishing to enter the industry through a professional vocational route. As the review document makes it clear “We expect that where a qualification at level 3 overlaps with a T Level or A Level it would not, in future, be approved for funding in relation to 16 to 19 year olds”.
T Levels will not cover all occupations so there will be a continuing need for a small number of technical qualifications outside of the T Level framework to meet specialist or ‘niche’ skills needs. It is not clear what provision may be available for 16-19 olds who may not reach T level entry a standards. Although it is recognised that there will need to a be high quality set of qualification options available for adults looking to improve their skills or retrain.
INTRODUCTION OF T LEVELS IN HOSPITALITY AND CATERING
T levels are a major policy plank of the government in trying to rebalance the current emphasis on academic qualifications and the technical (T). This initiative using a new qualification, T levels will be the equivalent of 3 A Levels and cannot be studied alongside A levels or any other qualification. There are currently 2 T levels planned for introduction relevant to our industry, a T level in catering and a T level in hospitality. The catering T level is planned for introduction in 2023.
The implications of both the review and removal of some vocational courses and the introduction of T level suggest that students at 16 who wish to remain in education will have a binary choice of A levels or T Levels.
The basis of the T level development is that the content is based on Level 3 apprentice standard e.g., Chef de Partie (catering) or Hospitality Supervisor (hospitality). Therefore any 16 year old wishing to follow a hospitality career without the entry standards for the T level route will have to take either an apprenticeship or an existing post 16 qualification where they are still offered.
T Levels offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days). Note the intended outcome levels (Chef de Partie/ Hospitality Supervisor) at level 3 with only 45 days’ work experience over 2 years.
The structure of a T Level courses include the following compulsory elements:
A technical qualification, which includes core theory, concepts and skills for an industry area. Specialist skills and knowledge for an occupation or career. An industry placement with an employer (45 days). A minimum standard in maths and English if students have not already achieved them.
There are two significant issues arising from the introduction of T levels. One is the alternative vocational educational and progression route for those who may have found education difficult and would therefore not necessarily meet the entrance threshold forT levels. Currently the only alternative would be apprenticeships which has already been noted are in decline. The second issue is the potential geographical reach of T levels to make them accessible to all individuals who might wish to pursue a hospitality your catering career. It is difficult to see at present how many colleges all schools will have the skills and resources to be in a position to offer catering and hospitality T levels. Not all colleges or schools are required to offer catering and hospitality and this could inhibit access to that route for 16-year-olds.
Hospitality needs a cohesive integrated approach from Government, with a Minister for Hospitality at Cabinet level.
The only short term solution to the diminishing hospitality skills shortage is through relaxing immigration restrictions on EU nationals.
Education and training in hospitality needs a strategic response to the issues outlined, that ensures every possible opportunity and progression is available to potential entrants into the industry to follow high quality professional vocational courses. This will require substantial short, medium and long term policy development and investment from this Government and future ones.
The original version of this article was first published in Catering and Hospitality News
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