Talking Talent: Making Hospitality Careers More Compelling

The hospitality industry is in the midst of a staffing crisis. This has worsened over the last few years due to Brexit and Covid, to the point that one in eight food sector roles is now vacant[1]. As a result, many foodservice operators have had little choice but to cut operating hours, reduce menu options and in some cases, close down outlet says Julia Jones, Head of B2B Marketing at Nestlé Professional.

To understand why, Nestlé Professional recently carried out a UK-wide survey, asking parents, teachers and students what the barriers were. We revealed that awareness of opportunities is low – not just among young people, but also among key influencers like parents, teachers and careers advisors. We also discovered that just over 60% of young people working in the industry love it, nearly 35% say it's okay, and 4% are not enjoying it. This shows there is clear passion for the industry, but that perhaps there are areas that need addressing long-term. 

I spoke with a group of hospitality professionals on last month to discuss these findings and to gather ideas and solutions on the Footprint Sustainability Symposium: The Future of Talent podcast. I was joined by:

  • John Holden - Chair & Founder Member of Bridging The Skills Gap; Food & Beverage Lecturer, Cheshire South and West College
  • Amanda McDade - National Head of Careers & Education at Springboard
  • Sophie Taylor - Chef de Partie at the Gleneagles Townhouse and 2021 Toque d’Or Front of House Student Winner, 2022 Toque d’Or Front of House Judge
  • Nick Hughes – Associate Editor, Footprint (Chair)

Representing education, charity and industry, each provided their own unique perspectives and experiences, making a fascinating and lively debate. I’ve summarised some of the headline findings and comments below. 

Hospitality is seen as a back-up career

‘Food and beverage’ was taken off the curriculum a long time ago, affecting public awareness and understanding of the subject. With fewer young people exposed to it from an early age, this has affected how hospitality careers are viewed.  

“Hospitality suffers from being put in this box called unskilled labour. Whether you're a meat butcher, sommelier or whatever, it's skilled work, yet it gets labelled as unskilled.” Nick Hughes

“A lot of people in my age group at high school still didn't know what they wanted to do. And it was very much, ‘you must go to university’, ‘you must do a job’, and if you brought anything that was like performing arts or in hospitality or being a chef or waiting, they're like, ‘oh, well, that's not a real job’.” Sophie Taylor

We should promote the business value of hospitality skills

Attendees agreed there is still little understanding of the business value that good hospitality skills bring to the table. And that a well-trained enthusiastic hospitality professional can make a significant difference to the bottom line. 

“We need to make people realise that, yeah, we are serving a plate of food, but again, it's the experience that you're learning and that is the key skill.” Sophie Taylor

“It's passion, drive, motivation and love of that food that's been put into that dish. […]. Front of house staff, how they speak to that customer, how they give that experience. You go out of a restaurant, you've had a good experience, you'll tell about four people, you go out and have a bad experience, you'll tell about 50 people, and then that will escalate.” John Holden

The diversity of careers should be communicated better

Despite hospitality offering a diverse range of careers, attendees talked about the need to communicate these more effectively, highlighting opportunities for talented people to progress fast. 

“Young people don't understand the real breadth of the exciting career options they can have, as well as the kind of fast progression that they can make within the industry. 

We need to be getting that information across – getting people in the industry who are excited about their career.” Amanda McDade

“You don't necessarily have to be cooking in a kitchen or serving the food or shaking a cocktail. There's media now, there's social platforms, there's so much to do with it. Breaking that boundary will make sure that this industry will become more successful.” Sophie Taylor

Hospitality is unique in the flexibility of its careers

Our research revealed that it’s important for young people to have a job with progression opportunities and flexibility. We agreed that the hospitality industry is great at offering this, so this should be emphasised.

“That's something quite unique to our industry. It gives a young person the opportunity to come in to see a hotel environment and try out different roles to see what suits them. Also, within that, there are real opportunities for young people with the right kind of attitude and the building of skills to be able to progress quite quickly into higher roles within the industry.  This will help support them financially, which is something really important to this generation as well.” Amanda McDade

We should be harnessing the passion in the hospitality industry

There’s an immense bank of inspiring talent in the hospitality industry, and competitions like Toque d’Or and Future Chef go a long way, building confidence as well as skills for younger people. It’s important that we take this enthusiasm out to young aspirants. And young industry professionals are best placed to do this.

“There is a vitality and a vibrancy around our industry that we need to get across to young people and their influencers” 

“It's far more powerful for us to be getting young people who are already in the industry into the schools, telling their story. Within Springboard. We have a network of ambassadors - people who are in the industry. [They] volunteer their time with us to go into schools to do exactly that. […] Talk about their roles and champion the industry.” Amanda McDade

It's time to re-evaluate hospitality careers

While many of the issues could be resolved by amping up communications, our research also showed that there is room for improvement. If we want to convince people to join the industry, we need to address barriers as well as talking about the positive things. Attendees said that work-life balance is a key area for the industry to reflect on, although it is already showing improvement in some sector roles. 

“Young people are looking for a work life balance, so there's definitely some work that we need to do there as an industry to be able to support that. We can't guarantee that you won't be working longer hours, but are there other ways in which we can support, so that you have a better work life balance.” Amanda McDade

“[some of my past students have] a four-day working week because of their style of restaurant. So they are getting work life balance and they know when their days off are, and they know how they can actually get their life on track and they can arrange things.” John Holden

There were plenty more fascinating insights on the rising interest in hospitality as a result of TV and social media coverage, and the importance of industry and education relationships. Also, the value of sustainability – both for businesses attracting talent, and to make young professionals more employable. To hear these and more, listen to the full podcast at: 

[1] Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of MPs

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