By Caroline Preston
North of Tyne Combined Authority
Hospitality, Leisure, Food, and Drink sectors, we have a lot to thank you for. You take care of our visitors, provide leisure opportunities, and keep everyone fed, watered, and rested. The industry is absolutely essential, imagine a world without hotels, without dining opportunities, and without fun things to do in our much-needed time off?
When you think about every touch point, we have with these sectors, it is rare you would see a day without at least one. That coffee en route to work, the food that is magically served as you fly, the express lunch with clients, a visit to the supermarket deli counter, or even the important dinner with family or friends, you get the gist…the sector is vital to our daily lives. But we do take it for granted, don’t we? Imagine life without these things, how incredibly dull it would be…
Hospitality has not had an easy ride over the last few years. First COVID-19 then Brexit, just as we feel things are getting back to normal, the sector is still getting back on its feet.
Although there are some standout and exceptional hospitality employers in our region, it will be no shock to hear that there’s also too many that have and do still rely on the availability of cheap European labour. That combined with employees leaving the sector after COVID has made the job of recruiting the right people even more difficult.
There has always historically been a trend of staff shortages in the hospitality industry. It seems that people in the UK don’t regard it as a career and it’s sad that it’s seen as more of a stopgap. The public perceives these jobs as unskilled, and not a profession that is worthy.
Sure, there will always be jobs at the lower end of the career spectrum, that is true of most sectors. Usually, these jobs are or should be steppingstones to better opportunities (more on that later) employees should be encouraged to progress. Many people find success by working their way up, even those with celebrity status like the much-loved tv chef James Martin. James often speaks of how his career began washing pots.
But unskilled and unworthy, that is unjust, and we have done the damage to the sector ourselves. We have cheapened labour in this sector, and we’ve devalued the most prized asset, people.
Many businesses operate on a low-pay, zero-hours basis in this sector where training and development is a rarity, is it any wonder people don’t see it as a long-term career option – would you?
The sector needs a re-think, a re-vamp, employers we need you to up your game, and light up opportunities in hospitality again.
20+ years ago, I left the UK for a career at sea. At 19 I was cruise ship bound, hard work, yes it was, but wow what a way to see the world and expand your horizons. In schools here in the UK, do we talk about those opportunities? Do we talk about where a career in hospitality can lead you? I expect we might a bit but nowhere near as much as we should. A career in hospitality offers almost limitless opportunities if you want it enough.
Michel Roux Jnr. Is famous for both his TV shows and his families Michelin starred restaurants Le Gavroche and The Waterside Inn is passionate about raising the bar when it comes to careers in hospitality. In 2021 he said to iNews (source):
“More than ever, it is important to tell the next generation in the UK that hospitality “is a career”.
“Traditionally, restaurants haven’t been seen as a long-term career in this country, not to most people,” he says. “We need better training, and we need better infrastructure. The industry has been neglected too long and it’s been seen as secondary.”
In early 2023, famed culinary presenter Fred Sirieix took 12 young jobless Brits to France, to learn how to run a 5-star resort. It made for fascinating viewing but even for those who didn’t make it to the end, it made for quite an experience and a provided peak of what hospitality at the top can look and feel like. Even better, it showed that hospitality has something for everyone.
Okay not everyone is cut out for or wants an international career, and they don’t need to be, because we also need them right here in Britain, but the opportunities need to be right.
Employers hoping to find and keep skilled staff cannot sit on their laurels and hope for the best; work is needed to create ‘good jobs’, jobs of the future. No matter if that job is a stepping stone job or at the top level, the conditions need to be right. Employers need to treat their employees better.
We do have to consider the fact that hospitality can also be a complicated beast, especially for employers that rely on seasonal trade. Very few people in this world can exist on a seasonal income, which again is off-putting for job seekers. So as an industry, what could be done? Are there any solutions here that could help provide better, more secure employment?
Pay is important, staring down the barrel of a cost-of-living crisis, people just cannot afford to live on a minimum wage anymore. In the North East, we have a 38% child poverty rate, that is 7 children out of 10. What is more shocking is 75% of those numbers are from households where at least one person is working. For many work just is not working.
It’s not just low pay, unreliable work is also a huge factor. Zero-hours contracts and low pay are essentially fuelling poverty.
Whilst it’s appreciated that businesses in all sectors are struggling with the inflated costs of their operations, without good people to help you through, you are even more stuffed.
Could you consider how much it would really cost over a year to increase those wages and are there other benefits you could offer your employees? How about training and advancement, opportunities for employees to better themselves? Or a few perks and genuine care for their mental health. All these things can impact the bottom line positively. Research shows that, staff that feel are well treated and rewarded:
- Are happier and more productive
- Have increased loyalty and flexibility
- Are more valuable with increased knowledge
- Are off sick less
In addition, you could also create an improved culture and find attraction and retention in recruitment a little easier. If you care, they will care. Quality jobs are the way forward.
If you think for a minute, what has been your most memorable hospitality experience? Swanky surroundings, although very enjoyable, are nothing without good service and food quality. I expect the most memorable experience you can remember was when someone went the extra mile, the person that made your celebration special, the chef that prepared that mouthwatering meal that helped you clinch that key client. Did you ever feel special when you ordered at a self-service kiosk? No, because it is people that make the difference.
People that succeed in hospitality get people, and they understand what good service is. These are the people that help you stand out, the ones you depend on to step in during that unexpected rush or crisis. Your employees are your key assets. The good news is there is no secret to finding these people, 99% of roles are trainable, we just need to get the right people with the right attitudes through the doors and keep them.
Clearly this will not be easy, as an industry there’s a mountain to climb, but that doesn’t mean we cannot pivot more quickly locally.
As a region we are well equipped for future success, Geordies are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Twinned with our amazing cities, culture, heritage, and landscapes, we have so much to offer. But we need the jobs to be better to attract and retain the right people, they are the future leaders.
So, how can it be done? Simply put, we need progress. Nobody expects things to change overnight, but if enough people get behind this need, we can create momentum. Momentum that makes a difference to our region over time. Nobody achieved anything without doing something.
The North of Tyne Combined Authority is championing the transition to better work with its Good Work Pledge. This independent flagship scheme makes understanding what ‘good work’ is very simple, through its framework of Five Pillars.
The scheme is completely free for employers of all sizes in our region, and it works in three ways.
- Businesses already doing the right thing by their employees can get recognised through two levels of accreditation.
- For those with work to do, the framework should be used as a benchmark and a guide. Look, see where you are as an employer.
- Soon we will be launching a supporters’ network and member community. The key to this will be the sharing of knowledge and best practice, giving everyone the opportunity to be better.
One hospitality business awarded the top level of the pledge is Newcastle-based Hooked-on Group, owners of Blackfriars, Dobson and Parnell, and Hinnies at the Coast. They offer food that is sustainably sourced twinned with high-quality service. Better still is their true commitment to all staff. Chefs have guaranteed days off each week and the businesses offers training and development for employees at all levels. In addition, all staff are paid a minimum of the Real Living Wage. A top local employer in hospitality with a loyal workforce.
Hopefully, this article has inspired you to take a look at the pledge, make a start and use our framework to identify the quick wins and longer-term goals. It is within our reach to make this exciting and buoyant industry better than ever.