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by | May 19, 2021 | Business

Hospitality job crisis

Having survived Brexit and a global pandemic, the Hospitality industry now finds itself facing a jobs crisis. Recent figures suggest more than one in ten UK hospitality workers left the industry in the last year. It’s not surprising given the perfect storm of 2020, but although many hospitality workers were laid off during the last 12 months, restaurateurs are now finding it hard to fill places.

UK Hospitality recently published their intentions to support the industry, working together with the Department for Work and Pensions on ways to get more people into the hospitality workforce. These include pushing for an accelerated Kickstarter programme, as well as conference calls with hospitality ‘work coaches’ – those who meet jobseekers face-to-face – to educate them on the hospitality sector and how they can encourage and direct future workers to our businesses.

UK Hospitality quite rightly point out “There is a strong feeling that people are still being advised against working in our sector as it is seen as a risky prospect with limited career opportunities. We must change this perception.”

So where did it all go wrong?

A quick scan of recent job postings in Liverpool shows that many businesses are still seeking staff for their venues. Around half are advertising minimum wage positions. Very few are advertising more than the National Living Wage. And yet these are positions which involve manual labour, antisocial hours and varying levels of expertise in safety, food preparation and customer service.

Chefs train for 2-3 years to qualify in their field. With 80-hour weeks being commonplace in the physically challenging kitchen environment, it’s no wonder that over 19,000 chefs leave the sector every year. The majority of chefs exit the industry before their 35th birthday. They re-emerge as plumbers, electricians and teachers – jobs where they train and study for the same amount of time but are now both recognised and rewarded for their skillset.

And herein lies the problem. The majority of positions in the hospitality industry are perceived as unskilled, and the country looks down their nose. Young people are not interested. A job in hospitality is for summer, not for life.

I spent 9 years of my career working for McDonald’s. A business who – despite popular opinion – treat their employees extremely well. During my tenure a decade ago the average Store Manager was responsible for a site with a turnover of around £3m a year and a team of 50 employees. Private healthcare and a company car were standard, as was a 10-week paid sabbatical after 10 years of service. The majority had started in minimum wage roles, but had progressed to earn around £40k a year once you factored in their regular bonuses. Many went on to work in head office, several became heads of departments and a small number even became franchisees.

Most of the Store Managers I worked with were also under the age of 30. I’d challenge you to show me another sector where that kind of personal growth is possible in one business in such a short period of time for someone of that age.

If we want to recruit the right people – and more importantly retain the right people – we have to start doing a better job of promoting the reasons why hospitality is a valid career choice rather than a short term stopgap. And by promoting, I mean screaming them at the top of our lungs. Tell the world what your business has to offer if they choose to become part of your hospo family. Because it now seems – having survived Brexit and a global pandemic – a shortage of good people could be the final nail in the coffin for our industry.

Update: 23/06/2021

When we first published our blog about the hospitality jobs crisis last month, I don’t think anyone expected the issue to escalate in the way it has, but the shortage of people combined with an increase in covid cases amongst the younger population has created something of a perfect storm.

Previously if a venue identified a positive case, they could close for a deep clean, rearrange the rota to accommodate those who were isolating and be back open in a matter of days. But, with a depleted workforce we’re now seeing restaurants close for up to 2 weeks after a positive case has been identified. There’s no one left to fill that gap, and there’s no queue of people lining up to work in our venues.

So why has hospitality become such an unattractive career choice?

Let’s start with the key word here… ‘Career’. Hospitality has long been seen as a transient industry, the job you do whilst you’re travelling, or training for a ‘real’ job. There’s very little training offered in our sector, and even less in the way of formalised qualifications. You learn on the job, and you’re expected to take charge of your own career progression.   

It’s a tough industry to work in. Long shifts and late nights bring with them a level of stress that you don’t find in a 9-5, and many turn to drink and even drugs to see them through a shift or help them relax after a day in the weeds. Relationships are stretched, friendships are tested and all the while you need to keep a smile on your face and entertain your customers, because that is your job.

And let’s not forget the culture. The recent Brewdog saga didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s worked in hospitality. The accusations of bullying and unfair treatment were more than familiar to most, and we all know someone who’s been directly affected by that toxic culture of ‘profit before people’ that comes when employers stop focussing on what makes them special and start spending all their time looking at the bottom line.
Meanwhile, you’re taking on all this stress and working all these hours for minimum wage, if you’re lucky. You’re on a zero-hour contract, so there’s no guaranteed income from your employer who can easily drop or double your hours on a weekly basis. You’re scared to get sick because you know you won’t get paid if you’re off.

So what can we do to fix it?

Quite simply, we have to do better, and be better. Shouting about how hospitality is a great place to work means nothing if the root cause of the problem isn’t being addressed. Culture comes from the top, and as a business owner you have a responsibility to listen to your teams – I mean really listen – and take action to address the issues they present.

Stop making excuses for the culture you have instilled or accepted. Working 7 consecutive 14-hour shifts isn’t a sign of dedication to the company, it’s a fast-track route to burnout. Managers shouting at their teams isn’t a sign of passion, it’s out and out aggression. And workplace banter isn’t funny if someone is being personally attacked.

Your employees have a basic right to feel safe at work. Safe because they are well trained and know how to do their job. Safe because they have an assured income, and adequate time to rest. And safe because they know they won’t become the prey of a more senior team member who’s had a few too many at 2am.

Ask yourself if you’d be happy asking your 18-year-old daughter working the late shift in your venue under your current conditions. If that thought makes you uncomfortable, then you really need to take a long hard look at how you’re doing things.

This opinion article does not necessarily represent the views of Foursquare Group as an organisation.
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