I recently made a significant career pivot. After 16 years in the gambling industry, I leapt head first into hospitality when I became CMO at Stint, the short-shift hospitality staffing platform.
On the face of it, moving from the online and retail leisure sector (most recently at Buzz Bingo) should have been the ideal apprenticeship for the hospitality sector. I understood customers, product and retail service plus I’d seen first hand what the Covid years had done from both a customer footfall and team furlough perspective.
Additionally, recruitment in the gaming space should, on the face of it, be considerably harder than in hospitality. Some people flat out refuse to work in gambling, whereas hospitality looked like a dream ticket – the ultimate ‘people and entertainment’ career.
It seems I was wrong.
According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), hospitality vacancies have increased by 675% between November 2021 to January 2022 when compared against the same period a year before. That’s a whopping 178,000 currently vacant positions.
Or a smidgen under two Wembley Stadiums…
It’s been tough – very tough – for the hospitality sector over the dark years of Covid. However, a glimmer of light had turned into a ray of sun as pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels reopened across the UK and customers fell back into their longed for social lives – leaving their Zoom parties behind – hopefully, forever.
So how come the industry is still struggling to fill such an extraordinary volume of vacancies?
My research (part of my self-determined induction in the industry for my new job) suggested a ‘perfect storm’ scenario had manifested.
Job vacancies, especially in entry level and casual roles, had fallen through lockdown, as businesses closed their doors and teams were furloughed. It seemed at the time that while staff were away from work, unable to earn from home as many other industry employees had been able to, a significant proportion looked to jobs in sectors with greater security and more sociable/reliable hours.
Demand is positive
Another potential factor was suggested by UKHospitality. The industry traditionally welcomed a cosmopolitan international workforce and yet many foreign workers and international students who usually flock to casual roles in hospitality had travelled home to be with their families during the pandemic. A proportion of these workers have been unable to return due to Covid travel restrictions. Brexit limitations on working and student visas haven’t helped, either.
UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls concurred with the scale of the issue facing the industry. She said: “It’s a toxic cocktail of problems throughout the hospitality industry. Demand is positive, but businesses are being squeezed.”
As a direct result, it’s now a seller’s market as more businesses seek to attract and retain a smaller pool of workers, meaning labour costs have risen incrementally. Even worse news when businesses are having to pay more for ingredients, there are constant supply chain issues and, thanks to the bonkers machinations of a certain individual in eastern Europe, energy bills are going north – and fast.
So, what to do? The hospitality industry has shown its impressive resilience repeatedly through the years. Now it needs to take that bravery, repurpose it in new directions and innovate its way around the vacancy problem.
Stint is one potential solution, but this isn’t an advertorial, so you can read more about us in my bio. As opposed to other industries, innovations through AI and technology can’t replace the talents of human beings, a point expressed beautifully by Marina Huggett, chair of the Achnagairn Estate in the Scottish Highlands, who said: “It’s a people industry. We are never going to be replaced by robots.”
The industry is already championing numerous vital initiatives to attract new talent but the chasm between available roles and interested workers remains significant. The hospitality sector has so much to shout about - perhaps it just needs to celebrate the very things that make it great?
Fun and vibrant sector
Effectively, magnify ‘brand hospitality’.
In my short time working in this space (including my recent Stint bussing tables at the Wolseley) and as a long-time frequenter of the bars, pubs and restaurants across the UK, a few things have become abundantly clear. Hospitality is one of the most fun, vibrant, welcoming and exciting businesses to be in. Added to that, jobs are flexible, sociable and there are numerous educational attributes within the industry that can set up young people for burgeoning careers. It’s time to shout about these things.
How many entertainers, personalities, TV chefs, business owners, celebrities and film stars began their careers in on trade roles? And how many in the upper echelons of hospitality have grown from acorns to oak trees in the industry? In the age of the influencer and a media world in which PR rules, I can guarantee they’d be overjoyed to share their stories and promote ‘brand hospitality’ – with the benefit of first-person perspective.
The current tragic events in Ukraine mean we’re still living and working in a highly disordered world, but one that can (and, I hope, will) flourish in the face of adversity. Hospitality, as I’ve come to learn in my limited experience, is a wonderful place to be and I’ll be doing all I can to spread that message far and wide.
With the persistence and ongoing enthusiasm I’ve witnessed from those who work in the sector to date, it will not only survive, but thrive.
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Harry Lang is a 20-year marketing veteran who recently joined staffing platform Stint.co as CMO. Stint can help solve hospitality staffing issues with its short-shift student workforce. Stint’s partner businesses enjoy enhanced guest experience, better supported core teams and increased operating profit - all at no extra cost.