The Skills Shortage Threatening the UK Hospitality Industry


Whatever you think of Brexit, there’s no doubt that it’s effects are already beginning to be felt across the UK. Whether you’re an ardent leaver or a slightly depressed remainer, you won’t have missed the fact that things are pretty much in flux at the moment as politicians on both sides of The Channel try to reach agreement on the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU.

One area that has been particularly affected by Brexit is the hospitality industry. Over the years, many businesses have depended on the skills of hundreds of thousands of EU citizens to provide their services. In a recent survey of 141 businesses by the NFU Mutual, some 45% said they were now deeply concerned about future skills shortages.

With the uncertainty of what Brexit is really going to deliver, many people who may have thought about coming from other European countries to work in restaurants, bars and hotels across the UK are currently reconsidering their options. There is a general belief among many in the industry that this is already causing a significant skills shortage across the board and it’s an issue that needs to be addressed now rather than later.

Research shows that about a quarter of all chefs are from the EU, three quarters of waiting staff and just over a third of cleaners. The hospitality industry is currently working with the government to ensure there is no ‘cliff edge’ and that access to EU workers continues when we eventually leave.

Small to medium size businesses in particular may face big problems if they employ mostly EU staff and suddenly find that their staffing source suddenly disappears. It could mean not having enough people to cope with demand, something that could impact severely on reputation and future income. Not only that, it may put some staff at risk especially if they are working longer hours and have less support.

The solution, according to many in the industry, is to focus on home grown talent by attracting young people in to the industry. This is something that needs to happen now and the industry is already trying to promote itself as a good career opportunity for this demographic. The trouble is that hospitality is often seen as a temporary career move, with low pay and with long hours.

Today’s modern young workers want flexibility in their work choices, want to work for a business that cares about them and are looking for opportunities that give the chance to progress in a career. The portrayal of the hospitality industry in the media, for example, can sometimes be off putting. The potential for low pay in many sectors means that it is often seen simply as a stepping stone for a more ‘exciting or traditional’ career.

The big problem is not just attracting the right, home-grown talent but also keeping it within the industry. The good news is that work is already being undertaken by industry bodies to do this. The Hospitality Works Initiative launched in February is aimed at raising awareness and hopefully improving the number of people moving into the industry. Creating clear career paths within the industry is also a vital component of attracting strong, homegrown talent, however, and something many businesses need to address.

In an industry that is set to be worth more than £257 billion by 2025 and employs over 2.4 million workers, this is a crucial time for recruitment and one every member of the sector needs to be on board with. It’s also a great time to start a new career with exciting new possibilities for those who have the drive and determination to succeed.


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