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Recruitment in UK Hospitality is in need of reform

Article by Nick Varney, Chief Executive Officer at Merlin Entertainments

Hospitality is an important driver of the UK economy; it employs over 3 million people, produces £130 billion of economic activity and generates £39 billion in taxes for the UK government.

It is also the third largest private sector employer, representing 10% of UK jobs. And yet many working in the sector lack essential skills, turnover is high and hospitality is sometimes considered only a stop-gap option for jobseekers, instead of one leading to a long-term career.

This must be countered so that the hospitality sector can contribute further to sustainable economic growth and employment, and so that we can remain competitive in the run-up to Brexit and beyond. We have said time and again that government must engage more with industry, and that a better understanding of the issues and drivers is crucial for effective policies. The Apprenticeship Levy is a prime example of the need for greater cooperation between business; proper consultation with business could have made it easier to understand and access, and would no doubt have resulted in a more effective programme.

With this need for better communication between government and business in mind, UKHospitality yesterday launched its Hospitality Workforce Commission 2030 enquiry findings, with recommendations to promote understanding within government of the critical importance and potential of the hospitality industry.  The Report’s recommendations focus on recruitment, diversity and skills, and if implemented could drive a major shift in how we view the hospitality industry.

This involved inviting submissions from industry members on how employment prospects and training can be improved in the sector and how a career in hospitality can be made more diverse and fulfilling. The enquiry heard from apprentices, operators, trades unions, skills and training experts and many more stakeholders, in sessions chaired by MPs with specialist interests in key areas for hospitality careers.

This is crucial because the hospitality sector aims to continue to be an engine of growth for the UK economy, growing at a rate of over 5 per cent per year. It also has the potential, and ambition, to create tens of thousands of new jobs and up to 200,000 new apprenticeships over the next five years. Hospitality is also one of the few industries that delivers jobs in every constituency in the UK, and so is perfectly placed to help the government deliver its ambition to drive country-wide growth, especially in deprived coastal communities.

This requires a radical change in how we view the hospitality industry in terms of a career path. In countries such as Austria, Switzerland and Germany, it is seen as a high-quality profession with rewarding prospects, and there is no reason why we can’t achieve that in the UK.

However, our education system has so far not promoted the broader hospitality industry as a long-term option for young people. The new hospitality and catering T-levels are not due to be introduced until 2022, which could impact the industry’s recruitment for the next 5 years. This is why the consultation is considering what skills we need to fill post-Brexit and how we can promote these better to those currently in education and considering their career paths.

The wider industry has already begun to tackle this shortfall by working with leading charities such as Springboard and People 1st to increase employment opportunities in our sector for those under 25, and the wider trade to ensure that hospitality is a career of choice at every entry-level point – school, university and returners to work.

A final very important issue that the Commission considered is the diversity of the workforce employed in hospitality. The industry employs more women than men with a more favourable gender pay gap than other sectors. It is also the second largest employer of EU workers. We need to consider what the challenges are in recruiting across diverse groups, including those who are older and ‘hard to place’, and how we can overcome these. Critically, we also need to work with the government as it develops its post-Brexit immigration policy, to ensure the industry can hire the necessary workforce to thrive in the future.

The Commission’s report and its recommendations form the basis of ongoing lobbying of Government, and place UKHospitality in the driving seat to help the Government to build the employment opportunities which the UK deserves.