Over 100 Kenyans recruited to ease hospitality staff shortages in the Channel Islands

28 January 2022 by
Over 100 Kenyans recruited to ease hospitality staff shortages in the Channel Islands

A recruitment firm claims to have eased the hospitality staff shortage in the Channel Islands by hiring more than 100 people from Kenya over the past year.

Lee Madden, managing director of GR8 Recruitment, said he had filled vacancies in restaurants, hotels, and pubs by sourcing skilled staff from countries outside the EU.

He said Jersey and Guernsey had lost around 2,500-3,000 workers following Brexit and the onset of the pandemic, leaving businesses struggling to recruit.

"For islands with such a small population that's a lot of people. In my construction business I lost about 35% [of the workforce] as we relied on transient workers, the same as hospitality. People have had to close restaurants – it's the same as in the UK," said Madden.

Madden, who has previously owned restaurants, set up GR8 four years ago as a recruitment firm for the construction industry, but branched into hospitality after a hotel owner asked for his help finding a chef.

The company has so far recruited 103 Kenyans to work across the Channel Islands and a further 38 hospitality professionals from countries including India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Barbados, Mexico and Brazil.

GR8 has partnered with Utalii College, a hospitality and tourism training school in Kenya, to place graduates into a variety of roles including chefs, front of house, reception, housekeeping and support services such as laundry.

A GR8 Recruitment day
A GR8 Recruitment day

Candidates, who can come to the Channel Islands on nine-month work visas, must have at least two years' training and relevant experience and a good standard of English.

Madden said: "We could also recruit senior managers. There are some people who have managed major resorts and 500-bedroom hotels.

"[The candidates'] skill set is amazing. We've had some people come over and upskill the staff already there [in the Channel Islands].

"We've fixed the hospitality crisis in the Channel Islands. It's done. That's by going global and having the processes in place that are resilient."

Christies Group, which runs four restaurants in Guernsey, has employed around 25 staff through the scheme.

A spokesperson for Christies Group said: "GR8 has supplied us with a strong team of front and back of house staff across our group of restaurants in Guernsey amidst a very difficult time for hospitality recruitment. They have been reliable, efficient and communicative throughout the process and have provided excellent customer service.

"We hope to continue to maintain a strong working relationship with GR8 and would recommend them to any hospitality business in the Channel Islands who, like most, are struggling to recruit staff."

Madden said GR8 has around 1,800 people on its books ready to work, with around 4,000 awaiting further documentation.

The company stays in touch with recruits after their nine-month placement and said one worker, named Grace, had used her wages to install electricity in her mother's house in Rwanda and pay for schoolbooks and uniforms for family members.

"She's bought chickens, a goat and a dairy cow all on a housekeepers' wage sending money back home over nine months, it's been a massive change for her," said Madden.

GR8 Recruitment visits Kenya
GR8 Recruitment visits Kenya

He added that GR8 reinvests 10% of its net profits into organisations in Africa, where it is ringfenced to support people without the funds to get their "first foot on the ladder" of the hospitality industry.

Madden is requesting that the nine-month scheme be extended to two years in the Channel Islands to give participants more opportunity for training and progression.

He hopes to one day be able to extend the programme across the UK, if immigration rules allow. "We've been speaking to hotel groups in the UK who are all banging their heads against the wall struggling for staff," he said.

"I know this is scalable. If we can stress test the process in Jersey and Guernsey the process in the UK could be the same. In the last 48 hours we've had 7,000 applications sent to us from around the world."

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