By Daniel Ciapponi
Labor is the biggest single cost for hospitality institutions, yet many hotel and tourism industry employers are facing an industry-wide shortage of qualified employees. Travel and tourism may be up as global levels of wealth increase, but there are fewer qualified hospitality workers across the entire industry – from casinos and cruise ships to restaurants and hotels.
So what skills are current employees missing and how can hospitality students gain the right set of skills to plug the skills gap and save the industry in the future?
What caused the hospitality industry labor shortage?
Several different factors converge to create a labor shortage in the hospitality industry. Here are some of the most prominent:
- Wages: employees in roles that traditionally pay low or have tipped wages, such as the restaurant segment of the industry, tend to leave jobs at higher rates than employees in other sectors because wages are low.
- Burn-out: Younger workers are more aware of work-life balance and mental well-being and are searching for careers that pose less demand on them physically and mentally.
- Covid aftershock: when the hospitality industry sharply contracted in 2020 and subsequent years of the pandemic, many hospitality workers were let go and are scarred from that experience.
- Generational factors: as older employees who have decades’ worth of experience in hospitality skills near retirement age.
- Technology: hotel employees are increasingly expected to use technology, and some workers (including older workers and those less familiar with technology) are pushed out.
How is the hospitality industry combatting the labor shortage?
When skilled workers decline in their droves, as we saw during the pandemic, hospitality businesses are forced to hire candidates who do not possess the full skillset required to do the job, resulting in the skills gap we see today.
Some hotels are turning to technology to fill the gap. Hotel culinary teams have been especially hard-hit by the skilled labor gap, so many are turning to cooking technologies that increase efficiency, such as pre-portioned, vacuum-sealed menu items. Others are scaling down the complexity or burdening existing team members with extra duties– tasking a prep cook to make bread instead of hiring a baker, for example.
Another example are so-called ‘smart hotel rooms’ which are reducing the burden on front desk staff by reducing guest interaction via the use of tools such as automated concierge and other in-room smart controls, giving guests more autonomy and streamlining staff tasks.
While these solutions have enabled industry players to keep up despite the labor gap, they are essentially stopgap measures. Technology can replace some amount of human labor, and workers can take on some amount of additional duties, but everything has its limit. The best solution is to equip a new generation of workers with the appropriate skills, entice them into choosing a career in the hospitality industry, and retain them with preferential working conditions.
Traditionally there has been a high turnover rate in hospitality. The industry poses demands that few others do. Consider that employees may work nights and weekends, limiting free time to spend with family or friends, and are expected to handle difficult customers and solve problems with grace. Employees who don’t devote time to self-care may burn out and decide to leave the field for something easier.
How can hospitality students use the skills gap to their advantage
Soft skills are the skills that aren’t necessarily taught in school but are part of good citizenship: Communication, leadership, critical thinking, organization, follow-through, cultural competency, flexibility, and customer service, just to name a few. These skills are missing in hospitality.
The guest comes first in hospitality. It’s obvious, but have you thought about what it really means in terms of how you interact with guests?
Customer service skills will serve you time and again, as will creative thinking and flexibility. For young people today, who often interact with one another via technological devices, customer service requires a necessary reorientation to interacting with people, either face-to-face or over the phone.
Multitasking and maintaining a positive attitude are of critical importance for hospitality workers, who often work long shifts and must be prepared to jump in and lend a hand wherever it’s needed. Workers who rise to the challenge without displaying negativity are more likely to be promoted, so there is something in it for you if you master these skills.
Employees who are organized are better able to multitask without losing track of critical tasks. This is a skill that is easy in theory but takes time to become a habit. Using checklists, for instance, offer a way to keep important tasks top-of-mind, so that no matter what comes up on a shift, you meet your obligations (and impress your manager).
Worldwide the growing skills gap could hurt the hospitality industry and on an individual hospitality business level, could diminish your brand reputation, customer loyalty, and revenue. It is in everyone’s best interest that the hospitality skills gap be surmounted, and investing in the education of the next generation of hospitality employees is among the best ways to fill the gap.
As employers are focusing on soft skills over hard skills, which can be taught on the job, those candidates who will rise to the top of the pile are those who have demonstrated emotional intelligence and other soft skills. The candidate to get interviews will be those who point to soft skills on their resume and exhibit their skills during in-person or phone interviews.
The best candidates will always respond well even when interviews take unexpected turns, for example incorporating role play or impromptu assignments designed to test candidates’ emotional intelligence and mastery of interpersonal soft skills. Current students in Hospitality Management degree courses are in a prime position to become the hospitality leaders of tomorrow if they manage to bridge the skills gap that is becoming ever larger.