Viewpoint: To compete with other sectors we must revisit our approach to people

13 May 2021 by
Viewpoint: To compete with other sectors we must revisit our approach to people

Skills need to be valued, people need to be retained and salaries need to increase in order to keep the sector thriving, says Adele Oxberry.

There's no denying that the pandemic has irrevocably changed elements of the hospitality sector, but the challenges we will face stretch far beyond this.

The perennial people and skills shortage that we were once battling with is likely to rear its head again – and with a vengeance.

The change in immigration laws have quietly (in the context of Covid) and dramatically changed the face of how we do business. According to a BHA/KPMG report, 43% of the more junior occupations within the hospitality sector are filled by EU nationals. Employers now require a costly sponsor licence to hire non-UK-born workers, while ensuring those members of staff are paid at least £25,600 or the ‘going rate' for the job offer, whichever is higher. This is just one of the major consequences of the new policy that will impact small and large businesses alike.

In addition, the fragility of the sector as a result of the pandemic means we face the further challenge of people moving out of hospitality. Approximately 1.3 million overseas nationals have left the UK over the past year, with almost 700,000 non-UK-born workers having vacated London alone.

Many of our European colleagues who have remained in the UK are now working as couriers, in grocery, retail or healthcare, the fastest-growing sector.

The fact that many of the transferable skills held by hospitality workers, such as customer service, staff management and cleaning, pay more in a multitude of sectors presents an additional hurdle for the industry. A bartender can work as a housing officer, for example, and earn £7,860 more per year.

Many of the transferable skills held by hospitality workers, such as customer service, staff management and cleaning, pay more in a multitude of sectors

To compete, we will need to consider terms and conditions. Financial compensation isn't the only issue, as it's also worth considering that those who have been working from home or furloughed may take some time to feel safe again. Working conditions will need to be modified to support this, and as a consequence, customer-facing hospitality roles are likely to be harder to recruit for.

We know that creating new roles that allow for multitasking across the business will be key to making this work, but by doing that, we could risk overworking the remaining workforce. The result? Poor customer service, a lack of repeat business, and damage to reputation.

Businesses will need to look at their people development strategies through a very different lens to avoid these outcomes. Automation, for example, is a key strategic local priority for all regions with digital skills training being funded by government to allow this to be facilitated by businesses. Used correctly, it can effectively enhance services.

We need to recognise the pandemic-induced debt the sector has – a quick win is through these types of funded programmes. Organisations need to take advantage of government initiatives, as well as providing training for staff in key areas including mental health and leading with empathy.

Beyond that, factoring increased salaries and planning for retention into the budget is a must. This will likely be reliant on customer costs increasing, but if service is impeccable, it is an option.

In this brave new world, recruitment and retention also needs to offer security in terms of a solid plan if another lockdown were to occur, as well as the promise of good pay conditions, formal training and a long-term career plan to show commitment to the individual.

Furthermore, evolving on current flexible working patterns, job shares and retention strategies that highlight career progression with the salary to match are going to be paramount. Fast-track leadership programmes are also a key consideration for the younger generations.

We need to promote these opportunities as much as possible, as well as sharing case studies that show the earning potential within the industry. To compete, we will need to offer more, be it through pay, development or more meaningful roles. Our sector has always been a meritocracy, but if we want to be heard, now is the time we to shout it from the rooftops.

Adele Oxberry is the founder of Umbrella Training

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