Abi Dunn set up the female-led recruitment agency with the intention of a business that “lived and breathed” its values. The company stands staunchly by five principles: “we are not shady, we are hospitalisation, we are expert, we are northern warriors, and we are one team.”
This philosophy aims to change the perception of recruitment. According to Dunn, it’s a sector that’s stereotypically considered “sharky and shady”, but on the contrary, Sixty Eight People has the best interests of its clients at heart.
Covid had crippled London’s hospitality industry in terms of recruitment, said Dunn, compounded by Europeans unable to move freely in the UK due to Brexit. What’s more, plenty of senior staff in the sector were opting for different pathways, after realising they could make equal money in other industries without having to sacrifice their weekends.
For Dunn, hospitality was “beautiful,” but “hard work”. People weren’t willing to commit to jobs they didn’t want to forge a career in. Historically, hospitality has also garnered a reputation as a sector that doesn’t treat people particularly well, she added.
It's all about retention
However, on the bright side, the founder believed the last 12 months had sparked significant change in the sector. She’d seen businesses start up wellbeing initiatives, increase pay and focus on benefits. There was still a long way to go, she added, but positive things were in the works.
Recruitment is important, said Dunn, but what really matters is retention. You’ve got staff, now how do you keep them? For the founder, this was all about marginal gains, such as micro-analysing every part of somebody’s individual journey and understanding their experiences.
She said: “We were very guilty in the industry of having blanket approaches to things like, ‘everybody needs to go through this training or induction programme,’ and actually everybody’s different and coming from different experience levels – everybody’s got different ways of learning.”
It was vital, continued Dunn, to move away from a ‘one size fits all’ attitude.
What’s more, she believed the industry could do better in terms of the recruitment experience. Short interviews with no feedback had been reported by hundreds. “We need to do better,” she said. “We need to make sure we’re treating our potential employees as well as we would our guests.”
No longer, she added, could hospitality businesses rely on hiring people who already had experience. This was too small a talent pool. Instead, the sector should focus on candidates with real excitement and passion for hospitality who would take well to training.
The recruitment and training consultancy launched a new office in London earlier this month. Comparing the city’s hospitality scene to Northern powerhouses like Manchester and Leeds, Dunn felt people were a bit more tired.
Overcoming tough times
She put this down to the tough time London suffered during the pandemic, with constant cycles of closures and reopenings exhausting the sector. The recruitment pool was also smaller, with some 20 operators fighting for a candidate versus one or two in a Northern city.
“It feels a bit more transient, as though decisions and things are happening more at pace,” said Dunn. Her job was to ensure people were getting a good recruitment process that didn’t turn into a battle over salary, as this didn’t do anyone any favours in the long run.
England’s capital could also do with more community spirit, the founder advised. She’d love to head up a project building a network among managers in hospitality.
Looking to the future, Sixty Eight People has its sites sets on far-flung horizons. The move from Manchester to London is this year’s venture. What’s next? New York? Melbourne? Dunn’s vision is to build the biggest hospitality network globally and use it as a force for good.