Cultivating Today's Hospitality Workforce
By Lisa Cain Assistant Professor, Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, FIU | March 08, 2020
For decades, hospitality and tourism scholars, educators, and practitioners have grappled with the challenge of identifying the requisite aptitudes, skills, and training most beneficial for individuals seeking education and a career in the hospitality and tourism industry. The aptitudes, skills, and training that comprise the profile of a desirable candidate is, in large part, dictated by the available labor market which currently is reaching acute levels of concern due to staggeringly low unemployment rates (3.7%).
Often times a worker will "happen upon" a career in the hospitality industry while endeavoring to pursue a career in something else. Similarly, the industry serves as a means for supplementary income for individuals who are in school, and it is accordingly deemed an accidental industry. In contrast, the industry also has a student workforce pool embarking on formal hospitality education. As these types of workers collide in the workplace, varying levels of expectations for professional development and a career in the hospitality industry are shared.
Given the disparity of expectations among the peer groups, it is understandable that employee attraction and retention can be an inherent challenge. The issue is compounded by a workforce nearly as transient as the patrons. The question that is then begged by human resources departments across the industry is how to identify and recruit qualified employees for entry-level positions. Additionally, once the right person has been recruited and hired, how to retain that person is of particular interest.
In order to understand why there is a qualified labor shortage, it is important to understand the cyclical nature of the development (or lack thereof) of the aptitudes and skills of hospitality employees. As mentioned previously, the profile of the desirable attributes of a hospitality employee is largely dictated by the available labor market. The current labor market for the hospitality industry is comprised of individuals who enter the workforce with no formal education or training, technical training, or formal education, or some combination thereof.
Additionally, many of the applicants, at least initially, do not wish to remain in the hospitality industry for the long run. This translates to a relatively weak market of applicants from which to choose. Subsequently, because the market is weak, the aptitudes and skills expected of applicants is lowered, initiating a downward spiral of expectations from education and training with regard to applicants (Baum, 2002).
Organizational behavior scholars often discuss the upward spiral initiated by surrounding oneself with the right people. For example, in her 2009 book Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson demonstrates through empirical research that positivity indeed begets positivity. Unfortunately, the inverse also holds true. Therefore, it is incumbent on hospitality industry practitioners and educators to cultivate a workforce wherein the mindset of employers and their expectations of potential and current employees shifts upward.