Claire Holland: Brexit reveals the need to tackle our skills shortage in order to safeguard hospitality industry

The hospitality sector is among those needing greater certainty over Brexit.
The hospitality sector is among those needing greater certainty over Brexit.
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MIGRATION and the hospitality industry have always been interlinked, with European migrants often filling the low-skilled and low-paid jobs and providing a solution to the ongoing skills shortage in the industry.

A report by KPMG found 75 per cent of waiting staff, 37 per cent of housekeeping and a quarter of chefs working in the UK hospitality industry to be from the EU.

Black Sheep Brewery boss Andy Slee is among those who says the hospitality industry must prepare for Brexit.

Black Sheep Brewery boss Andy Slee is among those who says the hospitality industry must prepare for Brexit.

With the Migration Advisory Committee report recommending an immigration system that does not give preferential treatment to EEA citizens and instead suggests focusing on skilled immigration, the industry faces an increasing skills shortage.

Whatever your thoughts on Brexit, the effects are already being felt across the UK hospitality industry with nearly half of hospitality employers showing concern for the political and economic impact of Brexit, and 45 per cent concerned with the associated growing skills shortage.

With uncertainty still surrounding the impacts of Brexit, many employers have reported an increase in turnover of existing EU staff members and a reduction in applicants from the EU.

Here in Yorkshire, with less reliance on the EU workforce to fill job roles, many hospitality employers remain cautiously optimistic. Yet a skills shortage remains with a lack of suitable candidates and, in some areas, an increased demand for workers.

Hull has seen a particular rise in demand for service sector workers with the City of Culture celebrations, while Beck Hall in Malham has become the first hotel in the region to become a Real Living Wage employer in the hope of retaining talent.

Talking more widely, Andy Slee, chairman of The Black Sheep Brewery, has said “it is imperative that the Chancellor introduces measures to support businesses and encourage investment ahead of Brexit”.

The British Hospitality Association echoes these concerns and has highlighted the immediate and long-term challenge to reduce our reliance upon EU workers and instead train and encourage more British staff to take roles in the industry.

Figures suggest that without the migration of EU workers, the hospitality industry will need more than 60,000 new workers per year in addition to the existing recruitment of 100,000 workers to replace staff turnover and meet growth needs.

Those planning for Brexit see the solution to be building home-grown talent by focusing on attracting young people into the industry. With increasing skill shortages, Brexit could provide even more great opportunities for young people.

Hospitality is unrivalled in the range of job opportunities which are available, and paths of career progression, with jobs ranging from customer-facing roles to design, finance and marketing. However, the UK labour market is completing with the lowest levels of unemployment for 
42 years and the industry is suffering from a poor public image of long hours and low pay.

Add to that the perception of roles as a stop-gap due to the dramatisation of the industry on TV programmes, and these misconceptions may explain why many young people do not view the industry as a viable long-term career. Now is the time to tackle these barriers and misconceptions.

Although 29 per cent of the hospitality workforce is already made up of individuals under the age of 21, the industry needs to do more to attract and retain young people.

Many feel that we need a more systematic approach to training and developing these young people. We need to show them the potential career prospects that hospitality offers, and that they are valued by investing in training to support them. A fundamental shift needs to occur whereby we, as an industry, see investing in the workforce not as a way to retain staff forever, but as a way to encourage people to stay in the industry.

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships could offer an innovative and alternative approach to building a supply of skilled graduates.

Alongside this, with the image of hospitality suffering, we call to action the industry to reform the often negative image of the sector and address the workforce desires for flexibility, fairer pay and better hours.

Now is the time that the hospitality industry and higher education should be working in partnership to secure the future of this industry. It is an industry that employs over 2.3 million people in the UK, has an annual growth of six per cent and is set to hit £100bn turnover this year, making it a significant contributor to the UK economy.

If the skills shortage is to be addressed, then recruitment and development through Higher and Degree Apprenticeships must be considered and any barriers to this be aired so that we can move forward together.

Dr Claire Holland is a senior lecturer in hospitality management at Sheffield Hallam University.