How rethinking recruitment can help the hospitality industry bounce back from the staffing shortage
For the industry to bounce back from the current staffing shortage, hard truths must be accepted and huge changes must be made. That was the conclusion made by speakers at the virtual Staffing Summit, sponsored by Stint and in partnership with VisitEngland. Kathleen Hall reports.
It’s no secret that a combination of Brexit and the pandemic has led to an unprecedented staffing crisis. In June the hospitality sector had a 10% vacancy rate, equating to around 200,000 job roles unfilled, according to a survey of members from UKHospitality.
“In the couple of weeks since then, the ‘pinging’ has gone through the roof,” said the body’s public affairs director David Sheen at The Caterer‘s virtual Staffing Summit, held earlier this month. “So I think that 200,000 is probably dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands self-isolating after being pinged by the NHS Test and Trace app or off sick with Covid itself.”
UKHospitality has created a 12-point employment plan to address the recruitment crisis. “It was kind of a marker in the sand; we obviously saw this crisis coming and needed to galvanise some action,” said Sheen. Recommendations include ways to promote and get people into the sector as well as calls on government to change tax and immigration rules.
However, staffing shortages are not a new problem. As Karina Coen, managing director of hospitality operations at Stint – a tech start-up that connects businesses with students seeking shifts and sponsor of the Staffing Summit – pointed out: “The recruitment and retention challenges have been around long before Covid and Brexit. As an industry I think we perhaps need to challenge some accepted norms on why retention is low.”
Kickstart a career
Hospitality careers specialist Springboard was created 31 years ago to address staffing shortages, but more recently it has been acting as a gateway employer for the government’s Kickstart programme. The scheme provides funding for employers to hire out-of-work 16- to 24-year-olds, covering minimum wage for 25 hours a week for six months and a training grant.
Springboard has been working with 200 hospitality businesses, including Nando’s, Benugo and Hawksmoor, and so far it has helped approve 3,000 roles, said chief executive Chris Gamm.
“We are working on a big summer recruitment campaign, where we are taking employers into job centres, meeting candidates face-to-face and recruiting on the spot,” he said.
Luxury Family Hotels has had a positive experience with Kickstart. The aim is to “instil a passion for hospitality” said Caroline Harrison, group human resources manager. So far it’s created roles in front of house, back of house, housekeeping and reception, and placed someone with the maintenance team. “It’s so varied, it’s great.”
Harrison believes it could help the sector build up its pipeline of people. “We’d hope in six months they’d want to stay with us, but even if they wanted to move on, then at least we’ve given them a fantastic six-month placement and really good experience. We all need to attract young people who fall in love with hospitality so we can futureproof [industry] talent.”
We all need to attract young people who fall in love with hospitality so we can futureproof talent
Alice Merry, talent and culture manager at the Dorchester and 45 Park Lane, agrees the scheme has huge potential. “We’ve met a few people who are all super-enthusiastic,” she said. “They might have come out of school or college; they’re young people looking for their first job and we really need to show them how amazing hospitality is. Because you can go to so many places and do so much with it.”
Both are looking at a number of ways to attract new staff and are casting their recruitment nets into new waters. Luxury Family Hotels is “thinking more digitally” about recruitment, said Harrison. “TikTok has 3.7 million active users in the UK who engage with the app on average 41 minutes a day – 26% of those users are aged between 18 and 24, so that is a massive untapped market.”
Meanwhile, the Dorchester is seeking more talent on the other side of the world after successfully recruiting staff from Canadian hospitality schools on a two-year work visa as part of its Brexit strategy. “We’ve had some fantastic success with that and we’ve just started to investigate what it would look like in other commonwealth countries,” said Merry.
Creating the right culture
However, part of the recruitment battle is creating a workplace culture where people feel supported. Emma Underwood, restaurant general manager at Conrad London St James, helped to open a new site in the middle of a pandemic and said empathy was key in getting people on board.
One of the main questions we asked people in the interviews to begin with was not just what would you normally want at the beginning of a job, but what do you particularly want now and what do you need now and how can we bring that for you,” she explained.
One of the main questions we asked people in the interviews… was what do you particularly want now and how can we bring that for you
Consistency of hours and shifts have become a big incentive, including offering a 39-hour working week. “Honestly, some of the chefs we spoke to were quite taken aback by this and were wondering how they were going to spend their time!” said Underwood. “It’s a 39-hour working week, but with the promise that, if you want it, there is overtime and it is paid properly.”
Sally Beck, general manager of Royal Lancaster London, founded the Hoteliers’ Charter in February this year to promote the sector as a career of choice. So far 500 hotels have signed up to its 10 points, which include providing a positive working environment, training and development opportunities and a good work-life balance. “It’s all around being a progressive hotelier,” she said.
“There’s an inverted hierarchy. We are there to support the most important people in our business: the frontline staff. So there’s no shouting and there’s no bullying.”
She believes culture is key to gaining and retaining staff. “Particularly younger generations, they have huge aspirations and really want to be part of the decision- making in your business… It’s a very different way of managing these days, with this current employment pool, than it was in the past. [Previously] general managers would say ‘you do it my way, because that’s the way I want it done.’ That style of management is gone and a much more inclusive together style of leadership is much more valid in this time. We’re all one team together and I think that’s a really good improvement in hospitality.”
John Williams, executive chef at the Ritz London, agrees. “I think the new generation does look for something different and we have to learn how to communicate with them differently.”
Williams has given talks to 22 colleges to inspire young people into the sector. “One of the benefits of that is making sure we get the pipeline of staff that we could have in the future. And that’s what it’s about: selling ourselves and letting them know exactly what to expect,” he said.
Clearly, there’s no single fix to the current staffing crisis – particularly as it’s brought to a head many pre-existing problems in the sector. But for many operators, it has acted as a wake-up call, leading to more creative approaches to recruitment and long-term strategies to inspire the next generation.
Working smarter with Stint
Karina Coen, managing director of hospitality operations at job app Stint, believes the sector has long had an issue when it comes to adequately scheduling staff.
“It’s a tough challenge. How do I make sure I give people enough shifts – the right shifts – while managing my margin at the same time?”
Having too many staff on shift at slower times can lead to unnecessary costs few can afford, while understaffing can lead to a loss of custom and damage team morale.
Hospitality tech used alongside good data can play a part in solving this issue, she said. “There are some fantastic solutions available that really can aid the recruitment revenue deployment and people-planning processes.”
But she believes the sector also needs to approach this problem in an entirely new way: “At Stint, we are completely focused on a solution that allows businesses to deliver great results for teams, costs, guests and revenue…We know that the labour challenges faced by the industry can’t simply be solved by getting more people.”
Stint harnesses the student workforce by giving them the opportunity to work flexibly. “Students can pick up the short shifts that you otherwise can’t schedule or you over-schedule.”
At the same time, the tool enables core teams to work more sustainable hours. “It promotes the ability to provide schedules to the team far enough in advance that they feel in control of their home lives and their working lives.”
This approach can be mutually beneficial to everyone. “I know it’s different and it’s new. But I think it is really great and we should all be looking at that type of technology,” she said.
“I am excited about the future. I appreciate the challenges that lie ahead, but I think there is an unbelievable opportunity to really change up some of the game.”
‘Enthusiastic, eager and hungry to learn’: recruiting diversely
Recruiting people from diverse backgrounds can do more than just plug a hole in the labour shortage: it can also bring new energy to teams.
Adrian Ward, head of disability partnerships at the Business Disability Forum, believes more inclusive recruitment processes could open up a new talent pipeline.
The charity has been working with companies to put in place work trials, rather than traditional online and interview processes. He said the outcomes have been “amazing”, particularly for candidates who have little or no previous experience of interviews.
“[If you] give them a chance to demonstrate whether they can or can’t do it, you’re in a better position to make an informed decision about that individual and they’re in a better position to make an informed decision about whether it’s the right role for them… It can make the recruitment process so much more inclusive for individuals.”
The best way of attracting talent is to be vocal about inclusivity initiatives. “Communicate the good stuff you are doing, but then you have to back it up as well.”
Neil Delahay, general manager trainer at the Clink restaurant in Cardiff, which trains ex-offenders in catering and hospitality, agrees that employers could benefit by employing more people with different backgrounds.
He first came into contact with the charity as an employer. “It was a breath of fresh air to have this avenue of individuals who were so enthusiastic, so eager and hungry to learn and also with an incredible skillset – which also raised the bar for the kitchen I already had.”
The Cardiff site is looking to reopen next month and is hoping to bring 2,000 graduates into the workforce next year.
The charity measures its success by the reduction of its learners’ reoffending rate, which is currently at 65%. To achieve that, Delahay said stability of roles are key. “From the employer side, it’s understanding where they’ve come from and the journey they’ve had to take to get there.”
The original version of this article was first published in The Caterer
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