Viewpoint: As recruitment challenges persist, hospitality should think outside the box in identifying new talent

11 November 2021
Viewpoint: As recruitment challenges persist, hospitality should think outside the box in identifying new talent

Social enterprises can go a long way towards addressing some of the hospitality sector's staffing woes, says Alessandra Alonso.

There's a ‘day' for everything these days isn't there? There's a Best Friends Day, a Hairstyle Appreciation Day, there's even a Measure Your Feet Day (23 January, in case you were wondering…).

But casting aside the frippery, today's ‘day' is Social Enterprise Day, and this one is worthy of note. Of course, as founder of a social enterprise – Women in Travel CIC – I have a vested interest in using it to speak to our cause, but I think it's also very pertinent to the hospitality industry that we understand, utilise and celebrate the opportunities that social enterprises around us present, particularly given the ongoing challenges in recruiting talent. We are incredibly under-utilised by the private sector, but the government has recognised the contribution of social enterprise through the Social Value Act, and I firmly believe we can go a long way towards addressing some of the hospitality sector's current woes.

Women in Travel focuses on training and mentoring women, particularly marginalised and vulnerable women, into jobs in travel and hospitality. We help women gain the confidence and skills to be ready to work in our hotels and travel businesses, and we connect them with employers – from hotel companies to tour operators and aviation services - who are now reaping the benefits of an eager and previously untapped workforce. Last year alone, we helped 150 women whose jobs were impacted by Covid-19, and before the pandemic we worked with various hospitality establishments, from large chains such as Millennium & Copthorne to smaller independents such as Dukes and the Georgian House hotel.

And while we focus on empowering women specifically, there are other fantastic social enterprises that operate a similar model with refugees or people who are homeless, helping to bring this hidden or invisible talent to the surface. It doesn't just benefit the individual, it's a win-win for the companies that want to improve their social impact, and those that may not have the resource or budget to recruit via other means.

During the pandemic we have had to adjust to new ways of working, and have realised that we can afford to be a lot more flexible than we once were. We can dice and slice jobs and roles in different ways, ways that lend themselves to a much more diverse workforce. The pandemic has also taught us the value of supporting each other, and we know that consumers are increasingly motivated by social impact in their purchasing choices. A global study last year by New York-based Zeno Group, encompassing 8,000 global consumers and 75 companies and brands, revealed that consumers are four to six times more likely to buy from, trust, champion, and defend companies with a strong purpose. Consumers want to spend money with brands that are a force for good, and this includes treating their staff well and putting diversity, equality and inclusion at the forefront of their recruitment policies.

Of course, it's not just consumers that are looking to engage with cause-driven companies - it's the staff too. Working with social enterprises not only gives you a credible recruitment pipeline, it also helps you to stand out as a cause-centric business, which in turn boosts retention. While we all appreciate that the current recruitment challenges are deep and complex, and compounded by issues out of our control, it is still a truth that a workforce that is proud of its employer's values will be more motivated and committed.

So as we approach Christmas, where the staffing crisis will be even more keenly felt, I encourage hotel, restaurant and other leisure businesses to think outside the box with their recruitment, and see how we and other social enterprises can help them. Women and hospitality are synonymous with each other, we sit at the heart of communities as hosts and guides, and Women in Travel is ready to work with you to bring their talent and productivity to the fore.

Alessandra Alonso is founder of Women in Travel

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