Managing the Mass Exodus: Strategies for securing top talent in the midst of a labor shortage

By Jason Ferrara Vice President, Corporate Marketing, CareerBuilder | December 15, 2009

It takes a lot of people to make a hotel feel like home for its guests. So it's not surprising that the hospitality industry is a major component of the overall U.S. labor force. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the accommodations and food services industry makes up 8.1 percent of all employment.

And Americans aren't abandoning their vacations or business outings anytime soon. The hospitality industry is expected to grow 18 percent and add more than 1.6 million new jobs through 2012, according to BLS data.

But while we're in the business of making others feel cared for, the labor market won't be very comfortable for hospitality employers in coming years.

A shrinking labor force

The United States is facing a looming shortage over the next few decades. In the past, the nation has always been able to depend on an expanding labor force, but this growth is expected to slow to just 3 percent over the next 20 years.

By 2012, the there will be 43 percent more people in the 55 to 64 age bracket. By contrast, the number of workers between the prime working ages of 25 and 54 is expected to stagnate. This means smaller generations of replacement workers will move in to fill the gap left by retiring Baby Boomers... and productivity can't make up the differential.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.