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UK Hospitality publishes workforce strategy

As the hospitality industry faces a recruitment crisis, a workforce strategy has been published to examine the sector’s labour needs.


Unveiled at a panel lead by CEO Kate Nicholls on 31 May, workforce strategy Fixing the crisis: a framework for collaborative action across the sector has been created to resolve the sector’s staffing crisis, by examining all aspects of its labour needs.

This includes recruitment, skills and training, people’s working lives, the image of the sector, and infrastructure.

It comes as hospitality’s post-pandemic recovery contends with increased raw goods costs, rising energy bills, business rates and the return of VAT to 20%, all exacerbated by a crisis in employment across the economy, and in hospitality in particular. ONS data shows that vacancies now exceed unemployment for the first time.

The hospitality sector is currently running with a 10% unfilled vacancy rate, which has meant that some businesses are having to limit their operations. In Autumn 2021, a UK Hospitality survey said that 17% of sales were being lost due to unavailability of staff, amounting to a national revenue loss of approximately £20 billion (US$25bn).

“Due to a cocktail of factors – from population demographics to Brexit disruption, education structure to the impact of Covid-19, the perception of the industry and so much more – there is a staffing crisis. This is not unique to hospitality, or to hospitality in the UK, but it is incredibly acute,” Nicholls comments in the document’s foreword.

Also speaking at the panel was Vince Kelly, lecturer in Culinary Arts at Westminster Kingsway College; Sophie Kilic, senior vice president of HR, Accor; and Sarah Hammond, head of people at Yo! Sushi.

Nicholls continued: “The industry has a huge role to play, and there is a vast array of great organisations who will contribute to making this a success.

“We need government to play its part, both in setting the right conditions for us to thrive, and promoting sector jobs through Job Centre Plus.

“We are hugely grateful and positive about the relationship we have with government. Ministers Paul Scully, Nigel Huddleston, Victoria Prentis and Mims Davies have shown a great understanding of the sector and shown we have advocates in four important departments.

“And there are the cross-sectorial bodies that are also vital. Whether it is training providers or colleges; independent organisations such as ACAS who produce fantastic guidance and offer support; or charity and outreach bodies such as Springboard, working to do good and aiding our recruitment endeavours.”

No silver bullet

The strategy is a collection of short, medium and long-term steps, but Nicholls is keen to highlight that there is “no silver bullet” when it comes to fixing the crisis.

“This strategy sets out a vision to ensure [hospitality is] fully-resourced with people with the right skills, a clear talent pipeline with established routes of progression and high levels of employee wellbeing. It is based on a partnership approach with industry bodies and governments.”

The strategy covers the whole of the UK – with a broad, four-nation approach. “And necessarily so,” Nicholls said. “We need to fix the short-term crisis, but we need to prevent it happening again. So the industry needs to look at the longer-term approach.”

While pre-pandemic the hospitality industry was facing a ‘war on talent’, now the challenge it faces is that of getting individuals into the industry. UK Hospitality’s workforce strategy calls for the UK government to promote hospitality as a ‘good career choice’ and broaden the appeal to not just the new generations moving into employment, but also the over 50s, the group hit the hardest during the pandemic in terms of loss of employment.

Vocational training key to solving crisis

“Those in the sector know how great working in hospitality can be – but there is an undeniable perception problem. We need to change this,” Nicholls said. “We also need to build on the work being done providing advice into schools. Springboard are fantastic in this area, and the Careers & Enterprise Company are also doing great stuff. But we need to make that the norm across the country – and sector businesses and individuals must contribute to that.

“It is no exaggeration to say that people make hospitality,” added Nicholls. “Along with the setting, they provide the unique experiences that people crave. Without the great people who create these environments there would be no hospitality sector.”

Alongside government support, UK Hospitality has called for the improvement of the employee experience and working conditions in order to attract more people to the industry, as well as the need for a spotlight to be shone on the benefits of working in such a diverse and flexible industry.

“Hospitality offers a wide range of roles with different skill sets. It provides entry-level to managerial to corporate jobs. People will find great training opportunities and meritocratic career progression,” explained Nicholls.

“A booming hospitality workforce will create a fantastic hospitality experience for all, and a better society. It’s crucial we work collaboratively to deliver on this workforce strategy. It will create economic growth and help to regenerate communities in all parts of the country.

“Higher employment rates and business levels will generate even further taxation from hospitality to fund and bolster local and national public services. It will also contribute to the UK being a leading tourist destination.”

“It is therefore critical that sector businesses are able to cultivate a skilled and dynamic workforce.”

The publication of the workforce strategy comes a week ahead of UK Hospitality’s Summer Conference on Tuesday 7 June.

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