By Michael Clitheroe, General Manager at Balmer Lawn Hotel (www.balmerlawnhotel.com)
In the months since coronavirus lockdown restrictions began to lift last year, there isn’t a single hospitality business that hasn’t been impacted in some way by the dearth of available staff. It’s an ongoing crisis that’s reached all corners of the country, with the sector still yet to identify a sustainable solution.
Last summer, research conducted by a combination of UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association and The British Institute of Innkeeping confirmed that nearly 100% of businesses had open vacancies, primarily concentrated in front-of-house roles; non-head chefs; and kitchen porters.
Indeed, it was expected that following the winding down of furlough, the tide would turn and we would welcome an influx of people back to the fold – but, sadly this doesn’t appear to be as much in evidence as originally anticipated. In a bid to both attract and retain staff, many employers have boosted salaries in the hope it enables a short-term fix. Figures from Indeed confirm that hospitality wages have grown by 4.6% in 2021, making the sector one of the fastest-growing in terms of pay.
As a result, we continue to see more and more examples of how the credibility of the hospitality sector as a prospective career option has been restored. Taking the time to invest in individuals and their education throughout the industry has been a major factor.
More and more work-based qualifications, such as NVQs, apprenticeships and degrees are being obtained in the workplace, which has resulted in an incredible re-evaluation of the hospitality sector, in terms of its employment and career prospects.
In fact, the sector is going full circle with a meticulous focus on its people. In a bid to entice this fresh wave of talent into industry hospitality venues have even launched their own recruitment and training academies.
To develop talent within the business, Balmer Lawn Hotel (BLH) has created an array of specialist roles to help upskill existing employees, which includes several management positions. On top of this, progression extends to the kitchen, where opportunities have been successfully provided to porters to develop them into prep or starter chefs.
The key success factor to recruitment is retention. At BLH, we have a meaningful and purposeful business plan with people at its heart. A culture that has seen us win awards for training and development, while also producing a pre-pandemic staff retention rate of more than 97 per cent for full-time employees for over two years. Employees’ long-term progression, from that of a part-time job, student, or graduate placement to long-term education whilst in full-time employment, demonstrates how effectively we position hospitality as opposed to other industries for a prosperous and long-lasting career.
Struggles with recruitment are by no means a new phenomenon for the hospitality sector, although the past two years have exacerbated the issue to a degree never seen before. Many people place a large chunk of the blame on Brexit and its impact on access to the continental labour market. At present, the Government doesn’t include hospitality jobs on its shortage occupations list, which offers lower barriers of entry and reduced visa fees for certain professions. Calls have been growing recently from across the sector to loosen rules to include a 6-month working visa for EU Nationals – a move that would certainly help but is unlikely to materialise.
There are other profound factors to consider that predate Brexit and the pandemic, but it is how the sector worked on addressing these image problems prior that have stood the industry in such its good stead at such a critical time, therefore enabling employers to fast-track change and evolution.
Overall, while the industry will continue to face many challenges in the next six to 12 months, we look forward to exploring relationships with our educational bodies locally to attract students on training programmes and placements for graduates. Maximising our routes to the labour market alongside the development of our existing pool of potential.