The sector is combating a shortage of workers following more than a year of closures and severely restricted trading due to the pandemic, and now with hotels reopening and business buoyant, the industry is struggling to keep up with demand.
A recent UKHospitality survey of hundreds of industry businesses found thousands of vacancies across all levels, with the vast majority (80%) reporting vacancies for front-of-house roles, such as waiting and bar staff, and 85% in need of chefs.
Nearly half have housekeeping vacancies and 43% are looking for assistant or general managers. The survey suggested a current vacancy rate across the sector of 9% – which implies a shortage of 188,000 workers.
The number of EU nationals working in the industry has also fallen significantly since 2019 and was accelerated this year as European workers remain hesitant to return from their home countries due to quarantine expenses and the restrictions on international travel.
With European hospitality schools and colleges unable to send students to the UK for placements, and with no visa currently to support this, this has also left many businesses struggling to plug the skills gap.
This has also undoubtedly been impacted by the new immigration systems post-Brexit.
The long-term effects look to be substantial too; new figures from EY’s latest Regional Economic Forecast showed that the hospitality sector is expected to take longer than most other sectors to recover jobs lost in 2020, employing substantially fewer people in 2023 than it did in 2019.
“With regards to recruitment and retention, there are so many factors working against us at the moment,” says Scott Harper, COO at Malmaison and Hotel du Vin.
“Hospitality was first to close and nearly last to fully re-open and since then people have moved to safer industries. Many on furlough have managed to supplement their income by working in other industries such as distribution and as a result have decided to change to these new industries where the basic hourly rates seem to be higher and work life balance seems more achievable,” he adds. “I’m not sure it is, but that is at least the perception.”
As the UK’s 3rd largest employer responsible for 3 million jobs directly and a further 1.8 million indirectly, it is staggering how little importance the government places on protecting the longevity and survival of the hospitality sector and its reputation on the career ladder.
There is a desperate need to champion the diversity and vibrancy of the industry directly to those in power, stressing the importance of the economic, social and employment contribution of our industry to society, before any change will happen.
Danny Pecorelli, managing director at Exclusive Collection, says that the last 12 months has ‘exacerbated change for the hospitality sector’ that in the long term will help raise the professionalism and desire to work in the industry.
“The UK food scene has raised its game over the last two decades and is renowned across the world,” he says. “You only need to look at London and the major new openings to realise our industry is one of national pride. Being a chef, restaurateur or a general manager now makes mainstream TV with chefs even commanding cult status.”
The scramble for staff has meant that brands are introducing a number of new initiatives to make working for them a more attractive proposition. Reviewing salaries, a clearer tronc system and added employee benefits are all being considered as hotels reassess their hiring and retention rates. Flexible hours and a more achievable work / life balance is also now one of the top priorities for those returning to work after furlough.
Richard Ball, chief executive at the Calcot Collection, says: “At Calcot, the mega-busy period we find ourselves in has given us the confidence to raise salary levels, particularly at the lower end, and we have left the dreaded ‘minimum wage’ behind us at last.
“We are conscious though, that whilst important, wages are not the biggest driver to retention, and we are focussed on providing learning and development opportunities across the Collection and striving to find ways for our teams to enjoy a better work/life balance. This is work in progress, and can’t be achieved by flicking a switch, but we have a big focus on this right now.”
Pecorelli at Exclusive Collection is also on a mission to move all teams across the group’s seven properties to the Real Living Wage in an effort to increase retention levels.
“We’ve looked at our compensation packages at every level and benefits include ample training and development with progression opportunities across the properties, discounts on room nights, F&B, spa treatments, and the cookery school, as well as a percentage of service charge and Cycle to Work scheme.”
Malmaison and Hotel du Vin are also putting change on the front foot. The brands have now set its pay above the National Minimum Wage at £9, with reviews ongoing in areas of severe staff shortages to increase that further. For vacant kitchen and F&B roles, applicants will be given an indication of OTE, with tips and service charge on top of base salary stated, while the brand’s tronc system will aim to pay more for loyal and flexible workers. Split shifts will aim to be a thing of the past too.
Peter Banks, managing director at Rudding Park in Yorkshire says the industry needs to pay ‘much more’ for working antisocial hours to make it worthwhile for staff comprising their work / life balance. He says he could fill the hotel with staff Monday to Friday from 9am until 5.30pm, but evenings and Saturdays ‘not so much’.
“Frankly we need to pay much more for working antisocial hours, and we must keep staff to only working their contracted hours. No longer can we expect staff to stay for another two hours, pull a double shift or an AFD. If we need to pay more and to have more staff we need to charge more. If we all do this as an industry our guests will realise that the nice barman doesn’t really want to be on his side of the bar on a Saturday night – he’d much rather be on the other side with his mates and family, as such we have to recompense him for this sacrifice,” he adds.
Charlotte Tuck, general manager at Old Stocks Inn at Stow on the Wold is responsible for a team of 25-30 staff at the 16-bedroom hotel.
She notes that whilst salary is important, providing a strong company culture and an environment where people feel proud to work is also paramount.
“When recruiting, we always try our best to offer competitive salaries to get candidates through the door, but that is only half the deciding factor for any candidate,” Tucks says. “It is all about company culture, ethos and work/life balance and if they are genuinely able to feel proud of where they work and the products they are selling.”
This attitude and approach has paid off at Old Stocks Inn. More than a quarter of current staff have worked for the hotel since it opened in 2015, with a further 22% having worked for the business for more than four years and 19% for over two years. This is a high retention rate of approximately 90%+ each year on average.
Training and development
Last month Crerar Hotels publicly committed more than £1m into attracting and retaining employees as the staffing crisis rumbled on.
The Scottish hotel group announced plans to ‘tackle the industry recruitment crisis head-on’ with the launch of a new Crerar Academy, designed to train and upskill staff, a raft of new employee benefits and tailored people development plans as it looks to scale up the business.
There is no doubt that engaging people in your business from a young age and nurturing them through the ranks pays dividends and helps to create the best ambassadors for your hotel.
“Our graduate programme was oversubscribed this year (a good barometer that people want a career in the service industry),” says Pecorelli, “and we were so impressed with the applicants we doubled the headcount on the programme this year to 16.
“Our chefs’ academy too has an incredible draw as upcoming talent understand that we encourage personal development, personal brand building and innovation. Sarah Frankland’s career is exemplary – winner of MasterChef: The Professionals, head pastry chef at Pennyhill Park and with a loyal Instagram following of almost 5k. And based on our achievement of Michelin stars we will be launching a food and beverage academy later in the year to put our service elements on an equal footing with the kudos being a chef now commands.”
Harper at Malmaison and Hotel du Vin also has plans afoot to restart the group’s chefs’ academy for commis / chef de partie levels, and is to increase opportunities for apprentices to join the company whilst also leaning on the government’s Kickstart Scheme.