Henry Seddon explains how to balance filling immediate vacancies with recruiting and retaining talent long-term.
From stories of hundreds of applicants for one vacancy last summer, hospitality has undergone a sharp U-turn in availability of skilled workers, leaving the sector searching for creative solutions to attract appropriately qualified staff.
The Covid-19 pandemic and impact of the UK leaving the European Union have created a perfect storm, with staff shortages threatening to hinder sector recovery. During lockdown, with the uncertainty of when hospitality could open – and under what restrictions – staff were forced to look for alternative employment or face redundancy. Even those in receipt of furlough payments struggled as income from tips was excluded from their assessment, with many exploring other options to earn a living.
Meanwhile, many staff from the EU returned home to be with family and it appears that a significant number are unlikely to return. It is believed as many as 1.3 million overseas workers left the UK last year, and some have lost their right to come back, as the public health constraints and travel restrictions stopped them from returning within the necessary six-month period.
The removal of chefs from the government's shortage occupation list in March 2021 has not helped our plight. In response, UKHospitality's chief executive Kate Nicholls has suggested "an Australian-style coronavirus recovery visa for lower-skilled workers who don't meet the point-based system [but] who are crucial to the recovery".
Furthermore, time is running out for EU employees still in residence who want to continue living in the UK, as they must apply for settled status by 30 June 2021. If they don't complete the process in time their skills will be lost to the industry.
Many of the solutions to these issues are for the long-term, leaving business owners with the challenge of meeting immediate needs and planning for the future.
Short-term, we are seeing inflated wages and improved benefit packages being offered for the most pressing vacancies. Operators are looking for ways of redirecting fees normally spent through recruitment agencies on attracting workers directly, such as golden handshakes and incentives for friend referrals.
The need for developing talent internally is likely to stimulate a growth in apprenticeship opportunities and attendance on hospitality-specific training courses. Businesses are also taking advantage of Kickstart, which is part of the government's Plan for Jobs strategy. Employers can take on any number of new starters through the scheme, with funding provided to create new jobs for young people at risk of long-term unemployment.
Operators are recognising that their recruitment strategy must be robust and that recruitment and retention of the best talent must be at the heart of their business. Technology can help with every aspect to help ensure continuity of the recruitment and workforce management processes. Implementing an effective recruitment solution that builds up a talent pool as well as filling current vacancies can give stability and even out peaks and troughs.
Implementing an effective recruitment solution that builds up a talent pool as well as filling current vacancies can give stability and even out peaks and troughs
As employees now have the power of choosing which vacancies to apply for and which to accept, benefits are becoming more important and operators should review how they reward their staff. Having more autonomy over working practices is a strong preference: that may be reflected through self-service software for shift availability, career development through training selection, or providing on-demand pay that can be drawn down as it is earned rather than waiting for weekly payroll.
Hospitality has faced overwhelming issues over the last year and the current strain on staffing is the latest challenge. A mixture of creativity, taking available support and using technology tools to build a sustainable recruitment pipeline will help secure a balanced footing for a stronger future.
Henry Seddon is managing director at Access Hospitality
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