For hoteliers, the search for new talent often revolves around familiar haunts, from TAFE and university departments, to the ubiquitous recruiter. It makes sense that a graduate from Edith Cowan with a Bachelor of Commerce in Hotel Management should deliver more value than someone with no industry-related qualifications at all.
In fact, those who come through proper education channels are better prepared for the jobs we need to fill because they are invested in a hospitality career. This means we can reasonably expect to keep them around longer.
But there is a major problem with this thinking: Namely that tens of thousands of new hotel rooms are coming to market in the next two years and we are just not training enough students to fill the jobs that will become available. In a 2015 report concerning the Australian Tourism Labour Force, Deloitte predicted a surplus of 123,000 hospitality jobs by 2020. Now that 2019 is underway, the relevance of this prediction is becoming stark. Many properties are already short-staffed. Meanwhile, recent changes to the 457 visa have made it more difficult for hotels to fill gaps with international talent.
Of course, a widespread skills shortage isn’t bad news at all for tourism and hospitality graduates of prestigious university and TAFE programs, or anyone who seeks formal education in hospitality. It is, however, bad news for hotel managers who are trying to build and maintain cohesive teams. It’s a common lament amongst long term operators that, despite an industry growth pattern that is tremendously exciting, there just aren’t enough young people gravitating toward hospitality. Like it or not, our industry has developed a reputation for being a convenient stop on your way to some other career.
But the volume and growth of the industry, as well as the demand for quality, is disproportionate to this reputation. Money talks. We need to find ways to re-frame careers in hospitality – not as temporary jobs to pay the rent, but as rich soil for long-term professional growth. There are ongoing attempts to change the way hospitality education is delivered, with startups like Saira offering “pop-up hotel schools” to train local talent in far-flung locations. The Australian government has also established a Tourism Labour and Skills Roundtable to “help build a sustainable tourism workforce for the future.” But that is government talk, so it may take years to have an impact.
If we are going to meet our labour needs in the years ahead – and do it in such a way that brings fresh energy to guest experiences and hotel work cultures – there is another place we ought to be looking for talent. Not amongst bright-eyed students, but within the ranks of other professionals who want a mid-career change.
Let’s talk about why the hotel industry can be good for them.
Most of the jobs coming in the hospitality sector are hands-on. They involve a degree of movement, physical activity, and problem-solving that is absent from your typical desk job. People working in hospitality perform a dynamic set of tasks with the potential for tangible positive impact on other people. At a moment when connections are being made between occupation and lifestyle – even health and wellness – a lot of people are looking to infuse their lives and careers with fresh energy. The hands-on connection to people, places and stories is a big part of what hospitality has to offer – especially for those who are considering a career transition.
And what do they have to offer hotels in return, aside from a complete and utter lack of experience in the field? The answer is obvious: Enthusiasm, personality, energy – all of the qualities we look for in younger people. Mid-career transplants have proven their professionalism in other fields. We know they can be trained to do what needs to be done, and we know they can take a job seriously. They probably have all manner of fresh, outsider ideas to share. Meanwhile, they’re in a unique position to enrich the story of a hotel by creating a more diverse and dynamic front-line.
The argument that younger hires are preferable because they’ll stick around longer was debunked long ago – at least where hospitality is concerned. A skills shortage may be looming, but there are competent professionals with many productive years in them who want exactly what the hotel industry has to offer.
To leverage this pool of talent, we must continue to clarify what makes hotels a desirable place to work. A lot of jobs on the market are uninspiring – and frankly unfulfilling – for those who perform them every day. Hospitality can offer a mid-career change that is inspiring, rewarding, and healthy. We need to understand this better than anyone as we navigate a challenging labour market in the years ahead.
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