Brexit is not to blame for labour shortages

By Peter Ducker

- Last updated on GMT

Battle for staff: the industry must be made more attractive as a place for young people to work (credit: Getty/Kobus Louw)
Battle for staff: the industry must be made more attractive as a place for young people to work (credit: Getty/Kobus Louw)

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You don’t need me to tell you about the impact of the labour shortage on hospitality businesses, you experience it every day.

What is interesting is to look at the possible causes of the crisis and possible strategies to mitigate the damage that ensues in every hospitality business.

At the outset, let me rule out placing the blame on Brexit – that’s both a cop-out and untrue. I know it’s untrue because I've seen the proof.

Earlier this week I was at a meeting in Amsterdam. We were staying overnight in a beautiful, large, upscale hotel. After a working dinner, at about 9pm, we were heading to the bar, only to be told that it was closed due to staff shortages. Among the dozen of us present were senior people from three major international hotel brands, all with pan-European roles; when we heard this news none of them were surprised.

What we are dealing with is a challenge that western economies are all seeing. The impact is real, major and, for some businesses, may become an existential issue.

For some reason, young adults – in some ways the backbone of our workforce – no longer want to work in our industry. The two things we need to do first are to understand why this is and to be truly creative in finding solutions.

A more attractive place to work

I see young people today are ambitious, committed and open-minded – and I do accept hospitality has a reputation for low pay and long, anti-social hours. But there is a staff shortage that is not going to solve itself, so how can we mitigate it in our businesses?

In a nutshell, it’s about keeping the people we have and being more attractive as a place to work than others. Staff retention is the Holy Grail. Keeping great staff can only be good for your business, but the challenge is how can we?

As an industry with so many small to medium-sized businesses, progression will always be a challenge – good, ambitious people will often feel they have to move to get a more senior role. While this is a fact of life, you can in some ways reduce the ‘dead end’ feeling by having a hierarchy system where staff advance in small steps as their experience and skills develop. A more complicated organisation chart may not be the answer for every business, but don’t rule it out immediately.

What’s more, it’s important to invest in training. If people feel they are upskilling and that you value them enough to invest in their development, they may be less likely to leave you.

Be open about how the business is doing and always recognise the role each team member plays in driving success. Back-of-house colleagues can have as much impact as those dealing directly with your guests.

Bounty payment

Ask yourself which is harder – attracting clients or attracting staff? Then look at how your marketing spend is directed. Perhaps divert some of your budget into local campaigns, focusing on the success of your team members to send out a strong message. A bounty payment to existing staff members who introduce a new employee is also a great way of reaching out, showing your team that you are exploring every way to ease their workload.

More creative rota planning could help attract people who can only work short shifts at specific times to fit in with their other commitments but need short, part-time work to help make ends meet – whether people working full time or stay-at-home parents.

Next, look at ways of streamlining processes to improve productivity – buying pre-prepared vegetables or butchered meat will increase food costs but may reduce labour problems.

Think about how technology can improve your productivity. Would digital order pads be more efficient in the kitchen and streamline the billing process for food sales?

What’s for certain is that there’s no quick fix to a chronic problem like this. The smart hospitality professional today must explore every avenue to solve the staffing shortage and improve efficiency.

Peter Ducker is a former chief executive of Institute of Hospitality and is a member of P&G Professional's Expert Advisory Council.

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