Hospitality faces mass EU migrant exodus as jobs soar

Hugely successful vaccination roll-outs, the lifting of all restrictions, businesses fully re-opening, consumer confidence rising – all have contributed to a healthy increase in GDP and a seismic rise in hospitality jobs.

Given the past 18 months has been tumultuous at best, devastating at worst for Hospitality, this would seem to be an extremely positive moment for the sector. Except for the fact that the industry is now suffering from a massive candidate shortage, leading to staffing issues, increased salaries and golden hellos.

In the worst scenarios businesses have had to temporarily close because of it. The ‘pingdemic’ hasn’t helped staff shortages, nor has the fact that thousands left the industry during the pandemic without returning, but far more damaging is the huge number of EU workers that have left the UK thanks to the perfect storm created by Brexit and the pandemic.

Bar graph with job posting an applications for the Catering & Hospitality recruitment industry in 2021
Job Posting and Applications by Month for Catering & Hospitality Industry | © WaveTrackR

WaveTrackR data has shown a steady increase in Catering & Hospitality jobs since March when hospitality businesses were allowed to partially re-open, with a spike in August.

Applications have been increasing too but at nowhere near the same rate, leading to the average number of applications per job falling dramatically in March and April, flatlining across May, June and July and dropping again in August.

It has suffered amongst the lowest average numbers of applications per job since April.

Industry job site caterer.com revealed that vacancies in the UK’s hospitality sector have shot up by over 340% this year but the harmful effects of the ‘pingdemic’, where huge numbers of staff have had to isolate through track and trace, plus employees leaving to work in other industries during the pandemic and then not returning, has caused a massive skills shortage.

Bar graph with average applications per job for Catering & Hospitality Recruitment industry in 2021
Average Application per Job by Month for Catering & Hospitality Industry | © WaveTrackR

As of August 16th fully vaccinated staff no longer have to isolate if they come into contact with a positive case, which theoretically should help with the staffing shortages hospitality businesses have been facing since the industry re-opened earlier this year. However, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls believes this will have a muted effect given around 60% of hospitality workers are under 30 years old.

Possibly the biggest drain on UK Hospitality talent has been the exodus of thousands of EU workers during the pandemic. Caterer.com‘s first quarterly Hospitality Hiring Insider report found that nearly 93,000 EU nationals working in UK hospitality before the pandemic have now left.

Of the 250 hospitality employers surveyed as part of the report, 64% were worried that those workers wouldn’t return because of travel restrictions and post-Brexit immigration rules.

Before the pandemic, a KPMG study commissioned by the British Hospitality Association estimated that 75% of waiting staff, 25% of chefs and 37% of housekeeping staff in the UK were made up of EU workers. The sector has historically relied on such workers to fill gaps in the pipeline for skilled labour.

The post-Brexit reality of hiring EU workers is a barrage of legislation involving visas, right to work status and the extra hoops to jump in order to become an approved employee sponsor. At the time of the study, in 2017, it warned that the industry could be hit by a staff shortage of 1 million workers if EU migration is restricted – and that was before the pandemic led many UK hospitality workers to change industries.

The worry is that the difficulties hospitality businesses are facing with filling roles could hold back economic recovery. The Office for National Statistics reported that the UK economy grew by 4.8% between April and June, mainly driven by restaurants and hotels, as well as retail. Consumer spending increased by 7.3%, ahead of expectations. If the economy is going to continue to grow, returning to its pre-pandemic levels by October as economists are now predicting, consumers need to keep spending. If hospitality businesses continue to periodically temporarily shut or close early because of lack of staff, it puts that in jeopardy. We need to keep these businesses open and thriving if the economy is to thrive.

How can we mitigate the effects of Brexit on the UK’s Hospitality talent pool?

It’s clear that a longer-term strategy that finds an alternative solution to filling labour shortages is needed.

The sector needs a re-brand to become one that people of all ages actively want to join. Even pre-pandemic college placement uptake was down, with the inevitable consequence that domestic hospitality workers had gradually been reducing. That needs to change. There is an opportunity now to develop UK Hospitality talent by attracting people with the right skills into the sector, curating a pipeline of domestic talent that will meet the demands of the industry for years to come. Talent attraction and training are key.

Springboard, a charity that supports a diverse range of people to join the UK Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism industries, is running an initiative that aims to train 10,000 young people ready to work in Hospitality by December 2022. It is a bold endeavour but more needs to be done.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to tackle the stigma of unsociable hours, poor pay and stressful working conditions to entice people back into Hospitality. This is why Springboard also developed Careerscope, an industry hub encompassing advice, resources and support from high profile industry figures and the largest Hospitality bodies in the UK.

Ultimately, the industry needs to convince people that Hospitality can offer not just short-term employment but a career for life. Candidates should be sourced from school, university, through apprenticeship programmes, from other industries and we should be paying attention to hiring local talent to future-proof the sector post-Brexit. We can no longer rely on EU workers to fill the skills gaps and so a local focus when it comes to talent pipelines is essential.

As we navigate through a period of huge change for the Hospitality Industry, we all must adapt, including where and how talent is sourced and recruited.

As the third-largest private-sector employer in the UK, Hospitality represents 10% of employment, 6% of businesses and 5% of GDP. The economy relies on services industries, which is why the UK took such a hit compared to other developed countries during the height of pandemic-induced lockdowns.

Measures to close the skills gap and entice talent into the industry both in the short and long term aren’t just essential for the survival of Hospitality but for the economy as a whole.

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