More than 92,000 workers from the European Union are estimated to have left the UK's hospitality sector in the last year, according to jobs site Caterer.com.
The first quarterly Caterer.com Hospitality Hiring Insider report, which analysed thousands of vacancies and applications and gathered the views of 250 hospitality employers and 2,000 consumers, found around 21.6% of those employed in the sector were EU nationals pre-pandemic, a proportion which has fallen to 18.7%.
This equates to a net loss of 92,800 people based on UKHospitality figures of 3.2 million working in the industry pre-pandemic.
However, 60% of hospitality employers said they were getting more applications from UK workers than ever before. 67% of employers are seeing staff who left the hospitality industry during lockdown return from other sectors and over half (56%) have hired new staff from other sectors in the last three months.
Consumer research highlighted the need for hospitality to showcase employment opportunities and benefits to attract staff. Half of those surveyed believed hospitality wages were low and 17% considered hospitality jobs as temporary before people move into another profession.
Despite these views, the survey found that 90% of hospitality employers paid above the living wage and, in response to shifting demands from the labour market, 58% had increased their benefits package in the last year. Other pay and work-life benefits offered by employers included bonuses (80%), personal development programmes (81%), flexible shift patterns (83%) and free meals (77%).
However, Caterer.com has called on the government to relax immigration rules to widen the talent pool, as 64% of employers were concerned that EU workers who have left the UK during Covid will not return and a recent report from UKHospitality found that 66% of employers were calling for short-term visas for overseas workers. 22% called for travel restrictions to be lifted completely.
Kathy Dyball, director at Caterer.com, said: "It's encouraging to see more UK workers entering the industry as people see the valuable, long-term employment opportunities hospitality can offer. However, talented EU workers remain an essential part of the sector's success and we join the industry in calling for the government to urgently make it easier for hospitality talent to return to the UK.
"The staff shortages the sector has been grappling with have only been exacerbated by recent ‘pingdemic' and staff being taken out of work at no notice. Yet again this is a case of the sector needing more attention from the government to be able to trade profitably. In the longer-term there is work to be done to change perceptions of the industry. Its reputation has suffered due to lockdowns, with job uncertainty added to the list of misconceptions such as low pay and lack of flexibility. Working together as an industry to address these will be paramount to develop future talent pipelines."
Gavin Smith, director at Pizza Pilgrims, said: "There has certainly been a downturn in EU applicants over the last year and we have noticed a shift to recruiting more UK nationals.
"We have a wonderful industry that offers the opportunity to build a career and it's important that we are elevating this message as a collective industry. There is a poor perception of the industry with old stories of hard work, long hours and poor working behaviours, alongside the view that the industry is not a career but a stepping stone while people explore what they want to do. At Pizza Pilgrims we don't buy this, and we have an Academy to change this, supporting recruitment, training, education and inspiring our team members."
Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, added: "There are over 2,500 hospitality vacancies right now across Greater Manchester and the depletion of staff across the industry is on a scale that is difficult to comprehend. There are severe recruitment issues and many venues are closing midweek, unable to open full time purely due to staff shortages."
"Not only has the workforce been decimated by Brexit and the introduction of salary-threshold visas but the closures enforced during Covid lockdowns have forced staff to leave the industry and retrain, or seek higher wages elsewhere.
"As we rebuild, we can't now expect the youngest and hardest hit by the pandemic to be satisfied with minimum wage roles, when they can earn higher salaries elsewhere in office work or in retail.
"By continuing to pay staff minimum wage, the industry is shooting itself in the foot and can't expect to attract new entrants. It needs to now look hard and re-evaluate what it is offering its staff in terms of salary in order to really compete with other industries and survive."
The full report can be found here.
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