Why have we made it so difficult for young people to come to the UK for a job in the middle of a staffing crisis, asks David Moore.
Three weeks in and I'm only now coming up for air. Pent-up demand is a real thing and Pied à Terre has had a blockbuster return to service, for which I am relieved and grateful.
We opened with a full team of veterans, all supported by Pied à Terre and furlough, and I felt pretty smug about being fully staffed. But in the first week I received notice from four members of the team – three chefs and one sommelier.
Trying to fix the staff shortage is now the main focus of my daily routine, with the clock ticking down on the notice period. Why didn't I have two months' notice on all contracts? That's just one question that springs to mind. People move on and that is just the way of the world.
But the shortage of young people, skilled and unskilled, in London is very real and a serious problem. And it is not just hospitality, it is a national issue. I say this as our sector is a significant driver of wealth generation in terms of revenues, taxation and job creation, but what is the point in creating jobs if there is nobody to take them? The consequence is that hospitality will stagnate – no growth, no positive future – and will not be the fire-cracker industry that has been much talked about in previous years.
Our sector is a significant driver of wealth generation in terms of revenues, taxation and job creation, but what is the point in creating jobs if there is nobody to take them?
Anecdotally, I placed an advert in November last year for a reservations/reception role, and received an unbelievable 900 responses across all platforms. Last week I placed a similar advert and I got seven responses. After a bunch of no-shows, not a single candidate turned up.
This not the fault of hospitality. I believe it is a combination of Covid and a negative of furlough along with Brexit phobia. I hear that many employees have returned home to France, Spain, and Italy while on furlough and have been paid handsomely by UK tax payers, only to decide not to return. This, coupled with Brexit and the right to remain, which I believe was badly handled, has created a terrible cocktail. It would have been better to simply say, anyone here on the last day (31 January) could remain. It would have brought a tsunami of possible candidates to our shores and help feed a bounce-back economy.
Instead, we have a points system with a minimum salary of £30,000 and sponsorship hoops to jump through, along with all the time and costs. The government has got it so wrong.
The industry thrives on foot soldiers, bringing in the youth of the world and training them, giving them skills that can go on to a very rewarding career.
We need a more pragmatic approach, based on proximity and historical links. Let the young people of the EU and the Commonwealth come to the UK on a young person's two- or three-year working visa. The UK is the favourite and first choice of most young people, so let's make it easy for them to get here. I truly fear for hospitality if we don't get this right – and soon.
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