Recruitment boss offers solutions to hospitality staffing crisis

Paul Murphy

A Cumbria-based recruitment boss has offered some suggestions for employers who are struggling to recruit.

Paul Murphy, of Recruit Hospitality, based in Whitehaven, has worked in the recruitment industry for almost 40 years.

He said: “There is no magic solution to solving the challenges employers are experiencing but to try and solve the problem we have understand the causes and effect and work from there.

“The first thing to acknowledge is that it has always been challenging to recruit in the Lake District. Cumbria is a large county with a small population.

“Cumbria’s hospitality industry supports 65,000 jobs, welcomes 47 million visitors – six million of whom stay overnight – and contributes £3billion to the local economy.

“Recruitment is key to supporting Cumbria’s recovery and future prosperity.

“A staffing crisis, in hospitality, will impact the wider economy and, without meaning to sound like the voice of doom and gloom, will lead to job losses and cuts to public services.”

What is causing the crisis?

In 2004 countries including Poland, joined the EU and that meant people from those countries were able to come and work in the UK.

Thousands of them took up employment in the hospitality industry which included hotels, restaurants, and bars in the Lake District. This considerably reduced the pressure on employers right up to the Brexit vote in 2016.

Paul said: “To say Brexit caused this would be irresponsible.

“However, decisions taken by the Government and the EU following the Brexit vote cannot be overlooked. There are many other contributing factors too.”

Paul said these included:

  • Following the Brexit vote there was a lack of clarity from both the UK Government and EU on the status of EU citizens living and working in the UK. This insecurity led to many EU workers leaving the UK to work in other EU countries or returning home. We also saw a significant reduction in new workers coming from the EU to work in the UK.
  • Post Brexit migration policy means that most hospitality roles do not meet the criteria for work visas.
  • Many EU workers who have applied for settlement status went home during the pandemic and, due to travel restrictions, are unable to return at the moment.
  • Furlough has been a life saver but also comes with unintended consequences. Some employees have taken other jobs and are benefiting from two incomes, others are managing fine on 80 per cent of their usual income and many people fear that if they start a new job and we suddenly go back into another lock down they will not qualify for the furlough scheme and will be left without an income.
  • Mental health is a massive contributory factor too. Being in lockdown has affected people a lot. Confidence and social interaction skills suffer when people suffer depression.
  • There are misconceptions about the hospitality industry as a career. Many people view hospitality jobs as stop-gap roles, servitude and poorly paid.
  • Lack of affordable and social housing in the Lake District.
  • Young people in the county moving away to bigger towns and cities to find employment.
  • A growth in the staycation market which requires more workers.

What is the answer?

Paul said: “There is no magic solution to this, however, I do have my own thoughts on what employers, the industry, local authorities and the Government could be doing.”

Here are his solutions which he says could help.

Employers

  • Make sure hospitality staff accommodation is homely
  • Focus on retention and looking after the staff you already have. Make sure your employees feel valued, are listened to, are supported, and developed.
  • Multi skill your team. Train your staff so that they can support other departments (for example, you my have a bar person who could help out on reception or a kitchen porter who could assist housekeeping after breakfast service).
  • When advertising jobs, communicate the full benefits package on offer (include holidays, pensions, tips, meals on duty, social activities, how many hours, promotion prospects, anything unique to your business).
  • Job adverts are not the same as a job description. You need to stimulate interest in potential job applicants. You should really spend some time on this.
  • Consider financial incentives for your staff if they recommend someone to join the team. Maybe a £200 bonus after that person has completed three months employment with you. You could even offer a retention bonus to existing staff (eg 50p per hour paid as a bonus after completing six months service with 100 per cent attendance).
  • Ensure all new staff have a full and proper induction.
  • Have a regular one-to-one review with your staff where you can discuss any issues and ideas.
  • Address the age-old frictions between front and back of house and encourage “one team” working. Maybe, as part of the induction, have back of house staff working front of house for a couple of days and vice versa.
  • Offer to give career talks to local schools and colleges. Advise young people about the career opportunities available in the hospitality sector and the benefits of living and working in Cumbria.
  • Take advantage of the government’s Kickstart scheme. You can train new team members whilst getting financial support from the government.

The hospitality industry

  • Address, head on, the negative misconceptions of hospitality as a career choice.
  • Hospitality does offer stop-gap jobs but, in the main, the industry offers genuine rewarding career choices for ambitious people.
  • Hospitality does not discriminate on educational background. Whether you are a high-flying graduate or left school with no qualifications it is possible to climb the career ladder quickly. Passion, the right attitude, ability, and commitment is all you need to succeed. There are many 25-year-olds in the hospitality sector, who earn great money and running multi-million-pound operations – not many industries can claim that!
  • The days of “servitude” are long gone. People who work in the hospitality sector provide a service; they are not “in service”.
  • Low paid jobs do exist in the sector (as they do in all sectors) but there are many very well-paid jobs too.
  • Many say the industry should not rely on tips to top up wages. Consider this, many industry sectors pay out bonuses, tips are hospitality’s equivalent.

Government and local authorities

  • JobCentres should focus on actual outcomes for people who are unemployed, and they should be trained to offer career advice and options in sectors such as hospitality. Pressure on just getting a job needs to be taken away and focus on getting the right job should be key.
  • Introduce a hospitality working visa. A two-year visa where people who can prove they have previously worked in the hospitality industry can apply to come and work in the UK. They would have no rights to the benefits system and would require health insurance (this would ensure there would be no strain on the public purse).
  • Recognise, respect, and celebrate the contribution that the hospitality and tourism sector make to the UK overall (£130billion per year, £39billion in tax, 3.2million jobs – the third largest sector in the UK).
  • Urgently address the lack of local affordable and social housing.

Paul added: “We’ve got to get everyone on board with this. The hospitality sector is so important to this country and contributes so much. This isn’t just a hospitality recruitment crisis, this is a major challenge for the whole country and solutions need to be found, quickly.”

Do you agree with Paul? Are you struggling to recruit staff? We’d love to hear from you. Email [email protected]

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