UK hospitality recruitment and retention: how can we achieve genuine change?

Sommet Education Foundation, set up to offer scholarships for hospitality education to talented individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds and advocate for careers and professions in hospitality, has published new research on the attractiveness of hotel, restaurant and customer experience professions. Here the UK findings are revealed in an article by the Foundation’s Executive Vice-President Anouck Weiss.


Anouck Weiss

The announcement that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Hospitality and Tourism launched an inquiry into recruitment and retention of staff in hospitality was a welcome development for everyone involved in the UK sector.

Currently there are over 100,000 vacancies in the industry and staff turnover in many hospitality businesses is higher than is sustainable for profitable trading, so the inquiry was set up to explore the reasons behind high vacancy rates, ask what more the sector can do, and then make a series of recommendations to government.

The inquiry, which we can hope will be picked up post-4th July following the General Election, will undoubtedly be supported by other UK industry bodies which have invested much activity in understanding the issues behind the ongoing employment challenge.

HOSPA has a long-running ‘Why I love hospitality’ campaign to support the industry during recruitment challenges and staff retention, and sharing the roles and progression available to those starting out or switching career paths. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the Institute of Hospitality recently published a white paper on How can hospitality employers make their workplaces appeal to older workers? 


We have also undertaken important work to support understanding around at least one of the questions being asked by the APPG (with UK Hospitality as the Secretariat) in its inquiry: What are the barriers businesses are facing when it comes to recruitment and finding the staff they need?

From my perspective, however, it is important to first recognise that hospitality covers many sectors. It offers inspirational careers in hotel management, culinary and pastry arts, travel, tourism, events and entertainment, luxury and finance.

Yet we wanted to better understand the employment challenges facing hotels, restaurants, travel, tourism, independent, medium-sized and large hotel groups, and high-end retail. So the newly-launched Sommet Education Foundation engaged OpinionWay, a pioneering market research institute, to conduct a comprehensive European survey to identify the key factors that attract and retain talents across these audiences in the hospitality industry. 1,300 young professionals and hospitality HR managers across Europe were interviewed, along with 20 key industry leaders encompassing the broader spectrum of the hospitality sector.

The full findings, which we published in April, can be found here, but the UK-specific data is particularly interesting within the overall global picture and provides valuable insight that may help to inform a response to the employment challenge.


Young professionals in the UK speak out on attractiveness of the professions


Among 200 young professionals aged 18-34 in the UK, 84% said that service professions were attractive (16% not attractive). For the high-end hotel, restaurant and retail sector, 81% reported this was was attractive (19% not attractive) when compared to other sectors in general. Career opportunities, and creativity and innovation (both 45%), and the importance of product, service and knowhow (44%) are the main aspects of this sector they find attractive, the last two higher than any other European country.

When asked what would make them want to join the hotel, catering or high-end retail sector, learning and growth opportunities (38%) brought the greatest response, even more than in other countries, followed by training and professional development opportunities (31%). What seems more important to them in their work in comparison with respondents from France, Germany, Italy and Spain are career development prospects, and to have the opportunity to learn a lot and to benefit from training (both 58%).

However, half (49%) of UK young professionals who believe the high-end hotel, restaurant and retail sector is attractive report that hierarchical management styles are an issue. 45% would prefer a collaborative management method, and 37% a consultative approach.


Hospitality HR managers outline their recruitment and retention strategies


60 HR managers, and wider managers responsible for people, based in the UK also shared their perspectives in the research – 60% said they are currently experiencing recruitment difficulties within their company, with the main issues being a lack of sufficiently motivated candidates (61%) and a shortage of qualified talent (58%).

However, 80% rated the high-end hotel, catering and retail sector specifically as attractive (20% not attractive) – and to support retention professional development focused on training is the main practice put in place to keep employees (50%). Both this, and development of the customer service culture (37%), feature more than any other European country surveyed. Organisational managers also attach primary importance to the personal qualities of candidates before even considering technical skills. They recognise the need for high standards in the high-end sector and therefore strive to create suitable and pleasant working conditions to attract and retain candidates.

75% reported that opening professions to diversity/inclusiveness constitutes a response to recruitment and retention issues – and 93% believe that their establishment already promotes this approach, including to refugees, disadvantaged people or those in vulnerable situations.


Opening the door to new talents


Sommet Education Foundation, which includes Accor as its Founding Patron, will now concentrate on tackling the sector’s employment challenges by focusing on two levers of action: advocating for careers and professions in hospitality, and offering scholarships for hospitality education to talented individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

By offering scholarships leading to employment, we aim at providing genuinely life-changing opportunities to a new generation of talents and empowering them with the necessary skills to join the thriving hospitality industry.

These are gamechanging times for the Foundation, and our UK-based institution Glion Institute of Higher Education London which is supporting our important mission. Within this collaborative effort, Glion’s Managing Director Frédéric Picard said: “Distinguishing hospitality as a career of choice, and opening minds to growing opportunities in the industry and related sectors, is close to my heart. As part of the Sommet Education group we are looking forward to developing initiatives around the Foundation. We welcome UK hospitality providers to join us on our journey.”