The perennial problem of talent recruitment continues to plague hospitality, but some companies have found ways to work with those new to the industry, providing inventive schemes to hold young workers’ interests and keep them in the job for longer. Janie Manzoori-Stamford reports on The Caterer’s round table in association with Syft
Hospitality as an industry has traditionally found it difficult to attract talent. What does the recruitment market currently look like?
Marco Reick (MR): Unfortunately, it’s twice as hard at this time of year, when we probably need twice as many people as we normally would. A lot of people are leaving for the summer and going back to their home countries.
In my experience it’s become harder since the Brexit vote. Not necessarily just because of it, but I find that the flow of candidates is no longer what it used to be. Now is no different to last year. Last year was no different to the year before. But before that, it was definitely easier.
Chris Day (CD): Outside of London there’s a huge attraction to new brands coming to a city. The number of applications has been really high in Brighton and Manchester and it’s not been overly difficult to recruit. The talent pool in London is a lot larger, but it does have its challenges. I’ve found it easier to open outside of London.
Lauren Spencer (LS): We don’t struggle too much with front of house positions, but recruiting chefs is a massive challenge. Our back of house talent manager had 10 interviews lined up recently and only two turned up. It’s a really big struggle. They’re taking jobs elsewhere. It happens really quickly.
Dan Solomon (DS): We’re very fortunate in that we do an induction every Monday, so we can hire somebody on a Thursday and they’ll start in four days’ time. But we’ve offered people a job on a Friday and over the weekend they go to another interview and take a job with better money. That loyalty from new starters has definitely changed for us. Back in the day when you were offered a job, you were excited. The last thing you would do is look for another job before you had even started.
Why has there been a change in loyalty?
Jack Beaman (JB): It used to be that the employers had all the power. Now it’s shifted because there are fewer workers available and so much work out there. They can basically do what they want. You see it with chefs. There’s always been a chef shortage, so therefore they can chop and change and go to wherever they want, because they know they can stop working today and be in a new job in two days’ time. Whereas front of house previously couldn’t always do that – but now, because there’s a skills shortage and more jobs available, front of house people can chop and change too. It creates very little loyalty, although, on the plus side, it does make employers focus more on employee retention and benefits.
MR: A few years ago, every employer would pay the minimum wage rates before the living wage was introduced. But the trajectory of the pay rates has outpaced the trajectory of the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage increases. I’m not at all worried about what the government is doing with those because [pay rates] will ultimately be driven by the candidates who are available in the market.
From an attraction point of view, very often you find there’s not enough in-depth knowledge about employers. There’s probably no interest about how good an employer is because they know if it doesn’t work out they’ll just go find another job. Job hopping has become the norm. A job for life is no longer a thing.
Rob Kirby (RK): Lexington operates Monday to Friday, so we don’t really have huge problems recruiting. We offer work-life balance. But also, when we set up the business, we wanted it to be a real food company, which gave us a really strong brand that made people really want to work with us.
LS: Once people find a brand or company that they want to work for, they generally stay. You need to make sure they are happy. It’s the job hopping that happens before they get to you that’s the problem.
Rada Yancheva (RY): Nowadays people like to have flexibility, so this is what we emphasise. We give them more flexibility with casual contract hours so they can choose when to work, rather than be committed to 40-hour contracts and working at certain times. We have more people, obviously, but they’re recruited on a casual basis. We cover full-time positions with people on flexible contracts.
DS: Last year we started offering flexible working in some departments, such as housekeeping. We’re attending job fairs aimed at working parents and getting mums back into work. Housekeeping was a real struggle when we were very rigid about our hours, but now we’re saying that one week’s work can be completed by two or three people. It’s opened the door to a talent pool we weren’t accessing previously and it’s made a big difference.
What impact does that have on training and quality control?
DS: We’re fortunate to have a flexible training team that can be both on- and off-site, and a lot of training is online as well. Our managers have said that the biggest push was making them aware of this market of talented people on we were missing out on. We changed our recruitment process to access these people.
MR: We’ve found in the last 18 months – both at Black Sheep and at Leon – that we’ve gone through a real culture change when it comes to part-time workers. There are more part-time roles available because, historically, full-time hospitality jobs were more often than not taken by EU citizens. With fewer EU citizens coming into the UK, we’ve seen applications from that demographic almost halve.
This means that proportionally there are a lot more British citizens who, by and large – and I’m stereotyping here – tend to be students: part-time workers. People who you would normally not have to look at because you had a larger pool of full-time workers.
But with that you need to re-educate your managers. They are used to cookie-cutter rotas where they copy and paste. A larger number of part-time workers meant we eventually moved away from managers logging vacancies. Instead they would log hours and get as many as three people to fill them. We also had to bring our training to the people who are not available to train on a Monday morning, because they only work Friday and Saturday evening.
Is there a difference in attitude towards a career in hospitality between people from Britain and continental Europe?
JB: I’ve got an interesting stat from our platform. We found that British workers tend to work fewer shifts than European ones. Unfortunately, it echoes the industry’s struggle in recruiting British staff and as an industry, we need to work on ways to improve the image of the hospitality industry as a career choice.
MR: There was some research done recently that found that 89% of secondary school leavers that were surveyed said that they had never been given career advice on the hospitality industry. It’s the third-largest employer in the country. Almost 10% of the entire UK workforce are in our sector, yet career advisers do not talk about it. Around half said they would not consider hospitality as a career option and that’s where this comes from. It’s not that British people are unreliable – they just don’t see it as a long-term career option.
As an industry, we need to change, but I’ve heard that for the last 15 years. The problem is we don’t have a seat at the top table in government. We’re totally underrepresented. The merger of the British Hospitality Association and the ALMR to create UKHospitality was a very good thing to create a voice for the industry. But the reality is, we don’t have a representative in the cabinet.
Meanwhile, the education system in the UK has for generations not been tailored enough towards vocational education. It’s all about academia, which is not suited to everyone.
LS: My background is in hotels and hospitality in South Africa and it’s funny because there they go into schools really early on and they sell the hospitality lifestyle. It’s still the same pay and unsociable hours, but they’re selling a career and it makes all the difference.
Once someone has been sold on a career in hospitality, the industry then finds itself battling against the likes of retail. How do you sell your individual business when you’re all competing for the same talent?
RK: When we launched Lexington we really pushed the brand and we made it so people really wanted to work for us. We had lots of chef forums and competitions and we gave them profile. A lot of chefs want to be seen, but contract catering doesn’t generally give them that opportunity, so you have to offer it to them in lots of ways.
LS: We were exactly the same. Sell the brand and give our people reasons to stay. And you’re right, people don’t want to just be in the background. So we’ve launched an app called Yapster that lets our staff take a picture of a dish or outline a bit about how they’ve done something and share it across the company. They’ve now got this platform and they love it. It keeps them so motivated.
CD: A huge part of how we retain our teams at Honest is that there’s transparency. Founders Tom and Phil will still meet every new starter on their first day and we hold an induction every week so that they can really feel a part of something. They will tell them about how they started the business and the new starters can ask their own questions about how they might be able to open their own place. Benefits and culture are what keep people going.
MR: The hospitality industry, both back and front of house, has actually changed in the past few years. Pay and work-life balance are a lot better and hospitality has always been a fun place to work, but now so many employers have got great, engaging reward programmes for their employees, which are far better than retail and some other industries.
Of course, there are still some businesses out there who pay the youth rates of the National Minimum Wage and then wonder why they can’t attract anyone, but overall, most hospitality advisors have really upped their game.
What is your best recruitment strategy?
DS: Our main talent source is still refer a friend. You have less control over the ups and downs of recruitment. We’ve put so much focus on retention, which is where so many good brands are doing great things. But how much of that is actually advertised?
MR: It’s difficult to advertise because most of the things we’ve talked about can’t be put in a job advert. It would be pages long.
RK: As a small company, getting recognised in things like The Sunday Times’ Best Companies to Work for lists really helped Lexington.
JB: Many of our workers sign up through word of mouth. Our strategy is to be very worker-centric and ensure we put workers first. Our platform provides flexibility of work, perks, rewards and upskilling opportunities to our casual workforce. This approach ensures we are far less reliant on channels of recruitment such as job boards with the majority coming via referrals. Being able to get to an environment whereby your people will refer people does reduce the cost of recruitment significantly.
MR: What it comes down to is leadership. You can do all the incentive programmes in the world; you can have the best pay and reward schemes, but if you have a crap manager, it’s a waste of time. I’ve seen restaurants with 100% difference in turnover, even though they are in the same scheme, serving the same product with the same menu and customer base. Everything is the same except the manager.
It’s a myth that staff turnover in London is high. It’s not. Poor management causes high staff turnover. Great leaders are what create a great culture, not me as HR director. I can create incentive schemes and write policies all day long, but culture happens in the four walls.
Brexit has exacerbated the long-term staffing problems with which hospitality and events employers contend. Employers have relied on the EU to provide quality workers, but the numbers have drastically declined since the referendum. It’s a call to action for hospitality employers to step up their game in candidate attraction and retention. For top brands and SMEs alike, Syft offers skilled, experienced and fully compliant flexible workers in a range of BOH and FOH roles. Employers can build pools of trusted staff members to hire based on their venues’ needs, whether at the last minute or ahead of time. Syft saves employers time and up to 55% on agency fees.