Fixing the crisis

With the UK's Office for National Statistics' data showing that vacancies now exceed unemployment for the first time, a new workforce strategy document from UKHospitality, the UK's hospitality representative body, examines all aspects of the hospitality sector’s labour needs there and looks to solutions to rebalance the shortfall.



Across British adults of working age, just one in five consider hospitality an appealing industry to work in, being more appealing to younger workers.

Across British adults of working age, just one in five consider hospitality an appealing industry to work in, being more appealing to younger workers.

These include recruitment, skills and training, people’s working lives, the infrastructure to support its employees and hospitality’s image as a sector in which to work.

UKHospitality’s workforce strategy document, entitled Fixing the crisis, suggests a framework for collaborative action across the sector and comes as hospitality’s post-pandemic recovery contends with increased raw goods costs, huge rises in energy bills, business rates and a return to 20% VAT plus a dip in consumer confidence due to the cost-of-living crisis.

All of this is exacerbated by a crisis in employment across the economy and in hospitality in particular.

“This strategy sets out a vision to ensure we are fully resourced with people with the right skills, a clear talent pipeline with established routes of progression and high levels of employee wellbeing,” states UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls in her Forward.

The all-UK strategy is based on a partnership approach with industry bodies, training and employment stakeholders as well as Government.

There are different schemes and organisations in each of the devolved nations in the UK but the key challenges remain the same and the principles and actions set out in the strategy apply in each of the four nations.

At the core of the strategy is an ambition to upskill the hospitality workforce across the country and create high-quality, high-skilled roles, promoting social mobility.

Historically, for example, the availability of the student workforce has been a strong connection for hospitality but anecdotally the number of students working in the sector has declined in the UK.

Levelling-up the hospitality workforce will help to level-up the nation.

Five Key Areas of Focus

The five key areas identified by UKH as integral to solving the issues faced by the sector are:

  1. Recruitment – this involves ensuring that conversations are being facilitated between business and jobseekers including those hard to reach; it’s about ensuring that the immigration regime is fit-for-purpose and it’s about providing accurate information on the sector to those who may not have considered hospitality.
  2. Skills and training – hospitality in the UK already has a great range of vocational and academic qualifications but it’s essential that these are built upon and become more widespread. Hospitality’s a professional sector and it needs to ensure that the level of training is there to support this, enshrining high standards that work for employers and employees.
  3. Working lives – people will only want to work in hospitality if it works for them. All stakeholders need to look at the compensation given for work in the round and how hospitality can make people’s working lives as enjoyable and fulfilling as they wish it to be.
  4. Image of the sector – there are ongoing concerns about the perception of the sector to existing employees, prospective employees and those who influence them. The industry needs to get on the front foot to tackle these misconceptions, backed up by ensuring that it delivers on its commitment to great jobs and careers.
  5. Infrastructure – as well as creating the right environment for people to work in hospitality there also needs to be some of the right structural pillars in place. The workforce faces barriers – even in those parts of the country that have strong hospitality and tourism offers and plenty of jobs. This can include the availability of housing and transport so people can live within a reasonable distance from their workplace.

According to the report, the ability to live in the vicinity of the place you work and being able to travel to the workplace are vital. Poor transport links and a lack of affordable housing are the two most important barriers, along with digital connectivity.

Talent pipeline disrupted

“After a significant drop in jobs during the pandemic, the sector has begun to recover and is now just 3.5% lower than the pre-pandemic peak,” states the report which also pointed out that Lockdown created “a severe disruption to the pipeline of talent coming through” as a result of the pandemic’s disrupting of ongoing education.

In Autumn 2021 a UKHospitality survey said that 17% of sales were being lost due to unavailability of appropriate levels of staff.

Where vacancy rates in the UK Economy are extremely high, up 62% on the same period two years ago, in hospitality it’s up by 93%.

The sector’s 170,000 job gap in the UK leaves one in 10 jobs unfilled, double the pre-pandemic level. Working with the Hospitality & Tourism Skills Board, the strategy will be implemented at both a local and national level.

Improving perceptions of the sector is vital too. The strategy cites the development of transferrable skills, flexible work hours and the prospect of rapid promotion as factors which make careers in hospitality aspirational. Though the workforce crisis is international and across many sectors, it has been acutely felt in British hospitality. On a panel of industry experts discussing the strategy, Sophie Kilic, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at hotel group Accor, addressed the elephant in the room: “Why was the UK hit so badly? Obviously Brexit.”

Kate Nicholls mentioned a desire to see the immigration system streamlined in order to enable citizens of foreign countries to come and work in British restaurants, bars and cafés.

Sophie Kilic said, “I come from France where it’s prestigious to work in hospitality, people see it as a career”.

Kate Nicholls argued that much of the stigma surrounding hospitality careers in the UK can be traced to an emphasis on academic over vocational training: “As long as schools are accredited by the number of students they get to university, vocational training will always be seen as second class,” she commented. She also noted that it is “difficult to compete as a restaurant when Amazon are offering jobs paying £20 an hour”.


The strategy also seeks to boost inclusivity across age groups.

Across British adults of working age, just one in five consider hospitality an appealing industry to work in, being more appealing to younger workers. However, the emphasis is still very much on engaging with Generation Z through school outreach and apprenticeships.

“It is imperative for the reputation of the sector that employers deliver a great experience for those that join them and work with them,” argues the report.

One of the aims of the strategy is to increase accessibility to hospitality opportunities for those with disabilities, both visible and invisible. Kate Nicholls mentioned that certain aspects of hospitality jobs, particularly the elements of routine, can appeal to neurodivergent individuals.




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