Starting with the end in mind - rethinking how we tackle our skill needs

By Simon Tarr, chief executive, People 1st

- Last updated on GMT

rethinking how to tackle skill needs

Related tags: Employment

Ask any publican or casual dining professional about the biggest people challenge that their business faces and the answer will almost always be the same – finding skilled staff.  

As an industry, we have an almost insatiable need to recruit. Despite the fact that the pub workforce has shrunk in recent years, hospitality still needs an additional 802,000 staff by 2022 – with a particular focus on chefs, managers, and staff with customer service skills.

With unemployment at just 5.4% and an ageing population, this target looks incredibly challenging – if not impossible.

Brexit throws another potential spanner in the works. As a sector, we’re heavily dependent on recruiting migrant labour – almost a quarter (24%) of hospitality employees come from outside the UK, 45% of whom are from the EU. This figure rises to 64% in London, again with 45% from the EU.

If the UK introduces a points-based immigration system – similar to that used in Australia – it’s liable to focus on skilled roles. This might help to fill management positions, but it will make it much harder for businesses to recruit front-facing operational roles.

We’ve already seen the impact that the points-based system for non-EU citizens has had on Asian and Oriental restaurants, many of which now face difficulty recruiting chefs. Very few sector-specific roles were allowed on the occupational list, and we had difficulty demonstrating that ‘chef’ was a skilled role, given the range of roles with ‘chef’ as their job title, all requiring different levels of skills and experience.

Pub and casual dining employers may well face similar challenges should restrictions for EU workers come in – so any business that does not want to be adversely affected will need to reduce its dependency on recruiting migrants.

So, our recruitment pool is shrinking. But do we REALLY need to recruit that many people?

If we look a little bit closer at the 802,000 staff needed by 2022, we see that 682,000 of them are needed to replace current staff – that’s 85% of the total figure. While no industry will ever retain all its staff, it’s a huge proportion to replace in a relatively short period of time.

Digging deeper, we find that not only does high staff turnover cost the sector £274m per year, but it’s also led to 20% of pub and casual dining employers saying their teams don’t have the skills they need. This is largely due to staff either being new in post or not having completed their training.

Without tackling the retention problem that lies at its root, we’ll be forever chasing our tails when it comes to cracking the skills conundrum. Of course, there will always be a need to recruit, but businesses can make it much more manageable by placing emphasis on retaining staff through better engagement, management and progression opportunities. We need to start with the end in mind.

Our conversations with employers suggest that the tide is starting to turn. While high labour turnover has traditionally been seen as inevitable, many are now taking a fresh look at how they recruit, engage, train and progress staff to improve retention.

New government policies such as the National Living Wage and the upcoming apprenticeship levy, both of which are adding significant cost to many businesses, mean that it’s more vital than ever to keep staff and maximise productivity.

In tomorrow’s article, I’ll be looking at what businesses need to consider in order to do just that.

About People 1st

People 1st​ is the leading workforce development expert for the hospitality, passenger transport, travel, tourism and retail industries. Our specialist products and services help businesses develop their employees’ skills and expertise, so they can improve retention, productivity and profitability. For more information, visit

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