Hospitality sector must promote itself as a career, not just a job

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Hospitality service providers need to improve their ’employer brand’ and rethink how they pitch their industry to potential new employees, says one industry expert.

Dr Donagh Davern is a lecturer in the Department of Tourism and Hospitality at MTU, Cork, a former general manager of the five-star Killarney Park Hotel and a qualified accountant. He is a fellow of the Irish Hospitality Institute and he is involved in hotel inspections for an annual national award.

“In recent years, with the exception of The Doyle Collection, The Marker, and the Guinness Storehouse, very few hospitality companies appear in the annual Best Workplaces list – which is dominated by mainly financial, information technology and professional services companies,” said Dr Davern.

“The honest truth is that the hospitality sector has a poor reputation for employment. It has a poor employer brand. We’ve all heard it – long hours, low wages, working when everyone else is off or enjoying themselves; that’s what people say.”

He said the slow return of workers before mid-August, while still availing of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, indicates a systemic problem for Irish hospitality. Hotels and restaurants have also lost workers who have permanently moved on.

The sector is recruiting, but it is struggling to find people to fill thousands of vacancies. More than 4,000 further hotel rooms are due to be added to the Dublin hotel market alone by 2023, while in Cork the recent openings of The Dean on Horgan’s Quay and the REZz “micro-sleeper” hotel on MacCurtain Street account for 187 of the planned 1,000+ additional bedrooms planned for the city.

“The sector needs to sell itself better,” he said. “I heard one hotelier on RTÉ Radio One who said one big problem is the lack of training. No hospitality course that I know of has been filled to capacity this year. The Government has given a lot of stimulus packages for these courses.

“We introduced a new Home Economics and Business course this year, which we could have filled four times over. By contrast, we struggled in Culinary Arts and that is because of the reputation of the industry, which is unfair because the sector pays well and it is great to work in.

“If you want to recruit and retain the best talent, you need to offer the best benefits and ask yourself some hard questions. What attracted you to your current employer? What are your opportunities for training and development? How do you improve the work-life balance of your employees?”

Dr Donagh Davern, lecturer in the Department of Tourism and Hospitality at MTU.
Dr Donagh Davern, lecturer in the Department of Tourism and Hospitality at MTU.

Dr Davern urges hospitality to evaluate its employer brand, and to take action to be more strategic in the management of talent – both potential and current employees.

“Put strategies in place to offer greater flexibility to your employees, an improved work-life balance, a genuine commitment to their training and development, subsidised health assessments, gym membership, mental health support and financial advice.

“Are there any opportunities to offer or subsidise childcare? Enable employees to grow in your company by offering bespoke training opportunities, a coaching culture and mentorship. These are some of the benefits potential employees actually want. Conduct a survey and learn from current employees.”

Hotels are also facing competition from call centres and retail. Meanwhile, several baristas and chefs capitalised on the lockdown to open their own mobile coffee or food units, said Dr Davern.

“Hotels are reducing capacity mid-week, cancelling lunch service and even closing completely for two midweek nights simply because they don’t have the employees to service the demand and they need to give their current dedicated employees time off,” he added.

“There are many available training places out there that remain unfilled. The solution now is to evaluate the employer brand and to take action to enhance it.”


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