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 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.”
Dr Davern said hospitality employers offer good payment terms, well above the minimum wage – otherwise, they know they wouldn’t attract staff. He urges the sector to look at how companies like Google, Facebook and the Big 4 accountancy firms pitch themselves to jobseekers.
He also cites restaurant owner Conrad Howard, whose Market Lane Group is offering its staff in Cork the option of working four long shifts so that they can spend three days a week with their families. Market Lane is also supporting a scholarship up to level 7 or 8 in Culinary Arts.
“They see the value of education,” said Dr Davern. “When I was researching for my PhD, I found one Cork hotel operator who was paying the college fees of one staff member whose degree studies had nothing to do with hospitality.
“That staff member was always going to move on, but the hotelier decided that paying their fees would at least ensure he would get four good years of work from that person. Attracting and retaining employees is about being a great employer; it is not about the statutory stuff.”
Dr Davern cites a blog he read recently, written by someone seeking a job in the hotel industry. The blogger spent a lot of time reading the copy for job advertisements, in which he found many of the stated benefits more off-putting than attractive.
Dr Davern summarised the key points as follows:
- Four weeks’ annual leave is not a benefit – it’s covered under the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997.
- No one has ever chosen to apply for a job to gain access to an annual Christmas party!
- Free car parking is not a benefit in a hotel in a small town in rural Ireland.
- Is a laptop really a benefit for someone who needs it to do their job?
- There’s no need to make a big deal of your “culture of training and development”, when all you are offering is the training mandated by law i.e. manual handling and HACCP training.