The next generation will pleasantly surprise you, if you give them the chance, says Robin Hutson.
For the past few weeks, I have been in the total immersion, preopening phase of our latest hotel – the Pig in the South Downs. In fact, I am writing this on the very day we open our doors to the public.
This hotel has been in the pipeline for the past four years. We initially bumped into some planning challenges, then of course Brexit and Covid further frustrated our programme, with shutdowns, regulations and building supply issues. So, it is with some relief that we finally have been able to open and start to see some revenue coming in, rather than money moving in the other direction!
Amid all the hurdles we have had to jump over the past 18 months or so, the staffing crisis is perhaps the most deeply concerning of all. The perfect storm created by our long-term skills shortages, the government's total lack of a plan to replace EU nationals post-Brexit, and then the further buffeting caused by workers leaving the sector in favour of ‘more stable' alternatives, has been the final straw that has broken many businesses.
Over the past few years, in actual fact, we have always done fairly well on the recruitment front. Perhaps the style of operations, a reputation for investing in training and our attractive locations have served us well. So, the prospect of needing another 100-plus team members for the latest Pig had not been my primary cause of lack of sleep over the past months…
At least, that was until I met our latest troop of recruits on their first week of preopening training in early August. Now I can honestly say I was really delighted to see such an array of smiley, enthusiastic faces in front of me on their first day. There was a nice gender balance, diverse ages and they were clearly pleased to be there. But it was only when I asked our new recruits to introduce themselves that I realised that for about half the room it was their first job in hospitality. I knew then that we all had our work cut out if we were going to hone them into a battle-ready crew in four weeks. So, it's with some pride that I now witness how this group has developed into a confident, accomplished front of house team in such a short period of time.
It was only when I asked our new recruits to introduce themselves that I realised that for about half the room it was their first job in hospitality
Millennials, together with their Generation Z sidekicks, often get bad press for being unfocused, self-absorbed and fickle, but I have to say I have seen no such traits from this team. In fact, I have been so impressed with the commitment and positive attitude that I am not sure I believe the stereo- type any more.
And if I needed further convincing, four of our 40 apprentices walked away with accolades at the Umbrella Apprenticeship Awards, and one 24-year-old from our sommelier team was accepted onto the Master of Wine programme – a study mountain that takes real dedication.
So the past couple of weeks have been heartening in the face of the nation's recruitment challenges, and I am beginning to believe that by embracing the new generation, there will be a bright future for UK hospitality after all.
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