Tourism minister Michael Ellis MP acknowledged that the hospitality industry potentially faces a bigger workforce challenge than any other sector as he spoke at UKHospitality’s Shaping the Future summer conference today.
The minister told those gathered at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London that the government had taken action including granting EU workers in the UK and those arriving in the transition period a right to apply for settled status.
He also suggested operators work to change perceptions regarding the employability of the sector.
Ellis told those gathered that challenges could be countered by investing in the workforce – particularly those in lower paid positions before adding: “The perception held by too many young people is that it’s not a long-term career, we want to remove from people these erroneous impressions.”
Ellis had earlier praised the hospitality sector for delivering “phenomenal economic success” and keeping the UK ranked as one of the world’s best tourist destinations.
He said he took the concerns of the industry “extremely seriously” adding: “I appreciate how many of you have EU nationals working in your companies who are concerned. I hope you feel the work government is doing can go some way to alleviate those concerns.”
Ellis’ speech to the conference was followed by a leaders’ perspective panel, during which Steve Richards, chief executive of the Casual Dining Group (CDG), said operators were receiving “mixed messages” and called for clarity from government.
All those on the panel, which also included Peter Gowers, chief executive of Travelodge; Peter Marks, chief executive of the Deltic Group; and Dermot King, managing director of Butlins, agreed that more should be done to showcase the sector as a career opportunity offering growth and well-paid positions.
Richards argued that it was simply untrue to describe the industry as a low-paid profession, detailing research carried out by CDG, which found that its average waiter earns £26,000 including tips, with the top earner making £50,000 a year.
While there was a desire in the room to challenge some perceptions of the industry there was also scepticism as to whether this could mitigate the impact of Brexit and Gowers told those gathered that “retention and attraction” would not be able to fill a shortfall of EU workers.