Ellis acknowledged that uncertainty surrounding the final deal was not helping employers in the sector, many of whom rely on staff from EU countries, as he addressed the UKHospitality Shaping the Future conference in London.
However, he said the Government had taken steps to reduce this uncertainty as he highlighted the draft withdrawal agreement published in March. It guarantees the rights of EU citizens and their family members living in the UK.
He praised the work that employees in the industry do to “create magical memories and experiences for people that last a lifetime” and lauded employers for honing staff skills and talent, and creating jobs.
More progress needed
But he said: “It also feels timely to consider some of the areas where progress might not have been so prolific. These considerations include a review of in-work low pay and doing more together to enhance sector leadership, so overall employee retention levels could be improved.”
He urged the delegates to “continue to scope out the tools and frameworks that we need to make a change”.
“A post-Brexit world may determine the short to medium-term challenges for the hospitality sector. And it would seem to me that pre-empting these challenges by investing in the workforce with consideration for lower-paid employees is a goal we should all work towards."
Investment to drive change
He said that workforce investment could be one of the most powerful ways to drive a change in the misperception that the sector is not where you go for a life-long career.
“There is an erroneous perception among too many young people that it’s not a long-term career," Ellis said. "We want to disabuse them of that erroneous impression. I suspect there’s no better recruitment evangelist than a passionate and energised hospitality workforce. So when people come into contact with your workforce, you want them to be enthusiastic and to impart that enthusiasm.”
Speaking in a panel session following the minister’s speech, Peter Marks, chief executive of the Deltic Group, commented on the impact of Brexit on his workforce.
“We are the largest nightclub operator in the country with about 3,000 employees plus a lot of contractors," he said. "We are very much throughout the rest of country but not so much to the south-east, so I’ve had nothing like the exposure that some employers have had, it’s less than 10% of my workforce. But even then I’ve lost managers who have gone back to Spain, Italy or Poland because they are worried [about Brexit] and don’t see the benefits of hanging on. We need clarity now.”
In another panel session at the event, Susan Martindale, group HR director at Mitchells & Butlers, said that team management and staff engagement were important. She said that finding and keeping talent in the future was the thing that “keeps me awake at night”.
“With Brexit, we are seeing our [job] applications are way down at the moment, certainly for back of house. I’m sure there are members of the audience facing the same challenge.”
News that Brexit secretary David Davis had resigned broke in the early hours of the morning before the conference with Davis citing concerns that the UK was “giving away too much and too easily” in negotiations with the EU. He has been replaced as Brexit secretary by Dominic Raab. Within hours of this, Foreign Secretary and ardent Brexit support Boris Johnson had also resigned, creating more uncertainty for the final Brexit outcome.