Industry Labor Shortage: Some Approaches to Growing Your Hotel Staff
By Mark Ricketts President & Chief Operating Officer, McNeill Hotel Company | November 24, 2019
Many entities, including the American Hotel & Lodging Association, have estimated that the hospitality industry is facing a severe shortage of desired staff, at all organizational levels.
Of reports by industry consultants, Deloitte, in its 2019 Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook, notes "In 2009, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 353,000 job openings across the leisure and hospitality sector. As of 2018, with the travel industry surging, that number swelled to 1,139,000. " While numbers like those just cited aggregate several related business types and are subject to further interpretation, the "labor gap" has been a well-voiced theme of concern at hospitality industry meetings in recent years.
Difficulty in finding needed staff is being reported by hospitality groups of all sizes, across many regions and property types. Property managers are looking for cost-effective solutions, especially for front-line positions like housekeeping or the front desk that are extremely demanding.
A number of factors are making it more difficult for hoteliers to recruit and bring on board needed talent, especially for those entry-level positions just noted. These include the present-day low unemployment rate, the increases in minimum wage rates in a number of states and competition from other service industries; a process complicated by the turnover attendant to many hourly positions.
The most recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a monthly turnover (separations) of 6.8 percent for accommodation and food workers in the Leisure and Hospitality Industry; an annual turnover of as high as 80 percent.
Similar concerns apply at most levels of a hotel, including for frontline managers and supervisors, plant maintenance or sales and marketing staffs. Even with executives, hospitality organizations are competing with their peer group, as well as similar industries in areas like information technology, accounting, asset management or human resources.
This article will discuss some useful approaches to help remedy that eternal challenge: finding good people who believe in serving guests to the best of their abilities, while supporting the organization's culture and mission.
The hospitality industry as a whole has been responding to these employment challenges. In January 2019, AHLA launched its "Hospitality is Working" campaign to help with recruiting and training of new workers in six key markets where the labor market is tight, "helping fill the industry's critical labor shortage." AHLA also noted its commitment in the years ahead to new and existing AHLA apprenticeship programs and to helping employees earn college degrees through scholarship programs.
How and Where Do We Recruit?
The American educational community has caught on to hospitality's role in the economy, with attendant professional career opportunities, making colleges and universities an excellent source of new managerial level talent for the industry.
A quick Google search will turn up dozens of articles along the lines of "Best Hospitality Management Colleges in the U.S." One doesn't have to be in a major travel or resort market or large urban area to find hospitality education these days. One international listing portal identifies nearly 200 U.S. schools offering bachelor's degrees in hospitality management, in addition to complementary programs like event management or tourism & leisure. Moreover, many community colleges across the U.S. offer at least some courses in hospitality management.
With support from the organization's headquarters, a property general manager or sales manager can visit these programs as a curriculum consultant or guest lecturer. Here's where "feet on the ground" can be of great advantage in attracting talented young people to hospitality, demonstrating the style of a given entity and its career potential. We can recruit (indirectly) as we teach, which includes forming relationships with a program's professors and lecturers. These professors and lecturers can further identify promising students for us, as can former graduates of a program.
One thing in our favor: students are looking for real-world experiences, not just book learning, along with some income to help pay those expensive tuition bills. At the same time, many colleges are anxious to demonstrate that their education does translate well to a career and income. Hospitality management is an attractive major in that the student is generally employable right out of the gate with a four-year degree. Some hospitality organizations can also entertain setting up their own apprenticeships or scholarship programs.
Similarly, with about one-fifth of U.S. high school students working, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, hospitality organizations can form productive relationships with local high schools. Hotel properties can partner with local high schools to offer cooperative education programs, which will take some commitment of resources, or provide direct part-time employment for students. In either case, the hotel group must be sure to follow any applicable employment rules with respect to wage rates, minimum age of workers or maximum hours of work per week that are allowed.
The activities just cited are an excellent complement to any individual hotel property's community initiatives. Similar activities that enhance community presence (and serve as indirect marketing) include having hotel executives serve on the board of directors of community non-profit organizations, including chambers of commerce or local tourism boards.
Online and Social Media Have a Role
So far, we have highlighted forming alliances with educational institutions, from high school to university level. Certainly, in today's employment environment, online job portals and social media have an important role in recruiting. Most hospitality organizations will be sure to maintain a strong, regularly updated presence on career or employment sites like HCareers, LinkUp, Hospitality Online or Glassdoor, as well as general sites like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
Depending on the community, job fairs or even classified advertisements in local newspapers may be valuable in attracting desired candidates for available positions. Last, don't neglect the traditional "friends and family" network of gaining job candidates. This approach must be supported by a formal job application system as a protection against any claims of favoritism or discrimination in the employment process.
Come on Board!
In addition to broadcasting available positions online, we can also employ digital technologies and advanced data analytics to process job applicants. Based on the premise that most everyone these days possesses a smartphone, these systems automate in near real time the initial screening and processing of job applications. In today's "always-on" society, the ability to respond promptly to favorable job applicants is a strong calling card for these systems.
Regardless, no matter how the new staff member is recruited, a positive and professional onboarding process is essential to successful team building. Once applicants are screened, a positive recruiting effort continues with a genuine interview process that listens carefully to the individual's vocational and life goals. Realistically and appropriately, anyone joining an organization expects to know what working for that group "will do for me" in terms of acquiring career skills, having a voice in his or her daily work, and also the ability to make a difference for the entity and its consumers. This initial great start must be sustained with quality training and sincere mentorship as one's work career progresses.
This approach represents a healthy development in the modern workplace. Transparency and realistic expectations yield an honest employer-employee relationship that pays dividends in terms of mutual respect, motivation and productivity.
Thinking "Inside" the Box
Most hospitality organizations are also cognizant of the many advantages in promoting staff from within to positions of higher responsibility and authority. These benefits include being able to draw on existing familiarity and experience with an organization's mission, culture, policies and procedures, and strategic direction.
If we can retain more desired staff, we will have to recruit less and diminish the turnover, in particular, of frontline staff that is so common in service industries like hospitality. Multiply one's turnover rate times the average cost to recruit, onboard and train a given position and you will quickly see that the benefits of employee retention also positively impact the bottom line.
Depending on its size and the property types under management, each hospitality organization will attempt to achieve the best balance between bringing on new talent and growing from within. Clearly, at certain stages of organizational growth, an entity may have to recruit certain positions to acquire or accelerate certain core capabilities.
"Recruiting" as a Aay of Hospitality Life
One important element to growing from within is to monitor the aggregate skill sets within an organization, and, also, keep track of which personnel are desirous of moving to positions of increased responsibility.
Does a housekeeper aspire to being a housekeeping supervisor or, maybe, train into front desk operations? Which day clerks would like to become assistant general managers or, perhaps, cross-train into a new discipline like sales & marketing?
One valuable approach is a weekly internal posting of available positions within the hotel organization to include job responsibilities, minimal required experience and contact information. These postings can be reinforced through the daily, in-person meetings held at individual properties. Communication is key. No one wants to lose a valuable team member because they forgot to keep track of his or her career goals during their journey with the organization.
A hospitality career and, ultimately, caring for guests is not for everyone. Often, the hardest thing to measure-and cultivate-is whether an individual has a "heart and soul" for hospitality.
In hospitality, we are always on center stage. Our every act impacts what our guests think of us, as well as our partners, vendors, community and staff. When we conduct ourselves in a positive, forthright, caring manner, and are sensitive to the aspirations and moods of our staff, we don't have to recruit so urgently. It simply comes naturally.
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