Recruitment boss suggests solutions to hospitality staffing crisis in Cumbria

A Cumbria based recruitment boss has highlighted a number of contributory factors to the hospitality staffing crisis which is affecting the Lake District and he has offered some suggestions for employers who are struggling to recruit.

Paul Murphy, of Recruit Hospitality (part of Recruit Cumbria Ltd), who has worked in the recruitment industry for almost 40 years commented, “there is no magic solution to solving the challenges employers are experiencing but to try and solve the problem we have to 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” explains Paul. “Cumbria’s hospitality industry supports 65,000 jobs, welcomes 47 million visitors (6 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?

Back in 2004 countries, such as 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.

“To say Brexit caused this, would be irresponsible” says Paul “however, decisions taken by government, and the EU, following the Brexit vote cannot be overlooked. There are many other contributing factors too”.

  • Following the Brexit vote there was a lack of clarity from both the UK government and the 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 settled 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% 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 experience depression and loneliness.
  • There are perceptions 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?

“Like I said earlier” continues Paul “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”.

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. Take time to write a decent job advert and try to avoid phrases like “you must” and “you will be required” – they are such a turn off for job seekers. A good job advert will tell candidates who you are and why people should consider working for you, what the job involves, the kind of person your job will appeal to, what is on offer (from salary to prospects – get everything in there). 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 3 months employment with you. You could even offer a retention bonus to existing staff (e.g., 50p per hour paid as a bonus after completing 6 months service with 100% attendance).
  • Ensure all new staff have a full and proper induction. This should include an introduction to all team members, expectations, business and product knowledge, procedures, and the little things such as where the towels are stored. You could also use this opportunity to share information about the area so that your team can answer any question a guest might ask.
  • Have a regular one to one review with your staff where you can discuss any issues and ideas. You can use these meetings to pass on positive customer feedback too (many employers forget to pass these on).
  • 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.
  • Place your permanent vacancies with recruitment agencies. Recruiters charge you nothing unless they fill your vacancy. They have access to all the job boards, candidates on their own database and they spend their whole days looking for and attracting candidates.
  • Have a careers page on your website. Do not just list jobs, include content about what you offer as an employer and why people should choose to work for you. Maybe even have some testimonials from existing staff which explain why they love working for you (a video would be even better).
  • 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.
  • If you do offer live in accommodation, make sure it is homely and fit for purpose but, most of all, make sure it is homely!
  • We’ve left the most obvious suggestion till last! Review salaries! Retaining staff is much more cost effective than replacing them so increasing the wage bill actually makes sound commercial sense. Also consider ensuring that salaried staff are paid for all hours worked, that way you are more likely to keep them and won’t be in danger of breaching minimum wage regulations (they apply to salaried staff too). You could also consider paying an enhanced rate for overtime hours worked.

The hospitality industry

“It is possible to climb the hospitality career ladder quickly”.

  • 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 pay 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. I agree with those people, tips should be an additional perk, not a top up!

Government and local authorities

“Don’t just look at the lack of affordable housing, deal with it”.

  • Job Centres 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. At present jobseekers are targeted on how long they spend looking for jobs and making applications and this means that people just apply for everything they see advertised rather than thinking about their career and the opportunities available to them. 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 3rd largest sector in the UK).
  • Urgently address the lack of local affordable and social housing. Do not just look at it the issue, deal with it!

“We’ve got to get everyone on board with this” explains Paul “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”.

Jobs in the Lake District

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