UK Hospitality Industry Workforce Issues

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At this week’s destination managers meeting one of the major current and predicted ongoing issue discussed was the shortage of trained workers across all skill levels and disciplines. Although the problems have already hit the national headlines they are not confined or due solely to the predictable (and identified as a potential issue as early as January see ESCE report) loss of EU worker who have returned home. British Destination members cited numerous instances of a loss domestic workers, most whom had been forced to seek or had found alternative employment in the last year and who were now reluctant or unwilling to return to work in the hospitality industry.

The view was that this was not something that would correct itself immediately and may not without intervention in the short, or immediate term. The impact on business was significant and was stopping some business opening and other operating at the current restricted levels and this would only get worse as restrictions lift and potential capacity and demand improves. Critically a once in a generation the opportunity to impress and retain for the future an essentially captive domestic audience in 2021 was being placed in jeopardy by the likely continuation of capacity and service quality issues. Large numbers of inexperienced staff and a lack of skilled staff in key disciplines is bound to impact on the consumer experience and give a jaded impression of what UK tourism has to offer.

Destination managers, thought it highly unlikely that the UK Government would move to lift “lower skilled tourism employment” migration restrictions and certainly not in time to impact on the critical 2021 summer season but, nonetheless, British Destinations should support the ongoing industry lobbying efforts to achieve some movement now or in the future. To that end it is important to understand the Government’s current position which is covered in the following summary:

Members thought it vital to look in parallel with the issues for the domestic workforce. Covid-19 had further exposed direct problems like relatively low wages combined with unsociable hours, seasonality issues etc. and indirectly related issues ranging, for example, from poor image of employment in the industry to a lack of affordable quality accommodation or housing in popular tourism areas. The majority of these were significant long-standing issues that could and would not be address quick but addressed they must be unless the industry believed that UK Government would at some point allow the industry greater access to large numbers of highly motivated, experienced overseas workers willing and able to work for comparatively low wages and in some instances live in relatively uncomfortable conditions working long and or unsociable hours. If there was ever a time to address some of the big, “elephant in the room” issues for domestic employment within the industry it was now.

UK Government has understandable put considerable emphasis on schemes like Kick Start and would in all likelihood continue to refer the industry to these schemes as immediate solutions. Members report a number of issues with obtaining staff via the scheme ranging from high degree of competition for a limited number candidates to barriers to uptake. Blackpool cited an issue with the complex paperwork which was serving as an understandable barrier to many potential candidates. In Blackpool’s case the Council had deployed staff to job centres to assist candidates with their applications generating a very large percentage increase in uptake and successful participation. This model was recommended as a potential solution to other major destinations struggling to utilise the Kick Start scheme as a means of supporting their local industry.

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