Solving the hospitality workforce crisis

Staff shortages: Philip Smith outlines two approaches to addressing the recruitment issues, which are attracting school and university leavers and over 50s into the sector (image: Getty/MmeEmil)
Staff shortages: Philip Smith outlines two approaches to addressing the recruitment issues, which are attracting school and university leavers and over 50s into the sector (image: Getty/MmeEmil)

Related tags Training Recruitment

Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show hospitality has 174,000 vacancies. These staff shortages are growing, and hospitality businesses face rising input costs, as operators compete for staff, as well as causing one in three hospitality businesses to reduce their hours of trading.

The resulting £21bn loss of trade to the sector, and over £5bn in foregone tax revenue for the Treasury, urgently needs addressing.

Two separate but related approaches might help to solve this crisis. The first is about how we attract more school and university leavers to the sector, and the second is how to attract economically inactive over-fifties into hospitality; perhaps for the first time.

In relation to school leavers, I feel we are often our own worst enemy. The constant litany of doom and gloom about our prospects is hardly calculated to persuade young people, or their parents, that hospitality can offer them a rewarding, long term future. We need to work much harder to pass the ‘mum/dad test’. Convincing parents that working in pubs, bars or restaurants is anything more than a stopgap, part-time earning opportunity for when you are at university but when you leave you should seek a ‘proper job’ is an unfinished task.

Career opportunities

There are fantastic career paths available at venue level and at operator level. In what other sector could a young worker start as a glass collector and end up chairman of the board? Where else could a woman or man in their mid-twenties be managing a venue with an annual turnover in excess of £1m? The excitement and challenge or running a large, city centre pub, bar, restaurant, or nightclub is tailor-made for ambitious, aspirational young people. Yet we have a tendency to talk ourselves down and give the impression that we are only a tax break away from disaster.

Hospitality is a sector in which training opportunities have been revolutionised over the past 30 years, with apprenticeships offering routes of entry to high paid, high skilled occupations. You don’t need to have gone to university to climb the ladder of success, but you do need to demonstrate practical skills and people skills.

I know things are tough at the moment and all sectors are having to adjust to coping with the aftershocks of two major crises – the hangover from the global banking liquidity crisis, post-Covid supply problems and high inflation. I genuinely believe our sector can lead the way out of these crises and help our national recovery. I am pleased therefore the Government has continued with business rates relief and indeed increased it from 50% to 75%​.

In relation to attracting the over-fifties to our sector, I refer you to Paul Chase’s recent, thoughtful article, in which he pointed out the demographic dilemma - that those aged over 65 make up 45% of the population aged over 18 and 18.9% of the total population. That statistic points to why we have a problem with those of working age diminishing as a percentage of the total population. Since the pandemic we have seen a marked increase in the number of people in their fifties becoming economically inactive. There is a large potential pool of labour here. There are 4.6m 50 to 54-year-olds in the UK, with 3.7m of them living in England.

Advantages highlighted

I believe there are many advantages to employing people in this age group. There are some 800 Conservative Clubs affiliated to the Conservative Clubs Association, of which I am chief executive. We simply don’t have a significant problem with recruitment of staff. The reason is that most of our clubs often recruit people who are more mature in age and who live locally. Many are looking for part-time employment and these ‘older’ workers have many advantages; life experience, a good work ethic and reliability.

Also let us face it, hospitality is not always family friendly in terms of the hours staff are asked to work. Older workers whose children have grown up are often more flexible in the hours they will work and more likely to stick with the job. The Government is very keen to explore ways in which economically inactive older workers, some but by no means all on long-term benefits, can be returned to the workforce. Perhaps this is something trade bodies should explore with the Government.

If we attack our workforce problems from both ends of the age spectrum, I believe we can go a long way to solving it. New patterns of work are emerging post-pandemic and we must be prepared to adapt to the changing world of work in order to attract young talent, as well as the well-honed skills of an older generation.

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