No industry has had a tougher time throughout the pandemic than hospitality. After 18 months of uncertainty, with three UK lockdowns closing the doors of restaurants, bars and hotels to customers, and many staff members being put on furlough for months on end, the industry has really taken a financial hit. Now, with restrictions having eased completely in mid-July, hospitality has the opportunity to return with a bang and customers are sure to welcome the return with open arms. But, there is a new problem that is very quickly surfacing – the staffing crisis.

Since the UK restrictions allowed for pubs, restaurants and bars to open their doors again, many firms have had to adapt their operations due to the struggle recruiting enough staff. Stories of hospitality businesses only opening on the weekends, stopping lunchtime services or simply not opening at all until all restrictions are fully lifted are beginning to emerge. All because they can’t recruit enough people. According to UK Hospitality there is currently a shortfall of about 188,000 workers in hospitality, with front-of-house staff and chefs being in particularly short supply. So, what seems to be the challenge for recruitment in hospitality? And what can the industry do to ensure a prosperous comeback?

An industry suffering from concern and uncertainty

A whole host of staffing challenges have swept across the hospitality industry during the pandemic. For starters, much of the UK hospitality workforce is made up of workers from overseas, and many are not planning to return to the UK due to the pandemic and/or Brexit. Then there’s the ambiguous reopening schedules that hospitality have had to endure over the past year – The Eat out To Help Out scheme that aimed to boost customer confidence and help the industry recover financially was quickly quashed by another strict lockdown a month later, closing the doors of businesses once again. This isn’t attractive for jobseekers wanting job security and continuous work schedules. Although the government furlough scheme has attempted to keep people in the industry, it’s not been enough for staff to come running back through the doors. Now, firms are turning to more desperate measures to attract employees, such as offering higher wages, but this will only solve the problem in the short term.

This challenge isn’t only a problem for hospitality. Although this industry is worst hit, others are also seeing dangerously low levels of skilled workers, thanks to the pandemic and accelerated digital transformation, and there is an expectation that every candidate that walks through the door has all the right skills for the job. We’ve been conditioned over the years into believing that experience dominates over skills when hiring. Historically, people would stick within the same industry, doing the same job role and sometimes even sticking with the same company for most of their career. But now that’s changed, and more and more people are switching careers entirely, exploring new avenues and are generally open to widening their skillsets. Judging people by the number of years’ experience they have in an industry simply isn’t viable anymore, and especially with COVID restrictions halting jobs completely, sometimes for a year or longer. Just because a person doesn’t have a certain number of years’ experience, doesn’t make them less capable or motivated to do the job.

Re-thinking hiring practices

There’s no easy route out of the current recruiting crisis for hospitality. Demands are high and jobs need to be filled quickly before mid-July comes around. But short-term solutions such as offering high salaries and prioritising candidates with the most experience will only lead to further challenges down the line, when high salaries cannot be maintained and talent pools shrink due to picky demands.

Instead, hospitality should be re-thinking their hiring methods for the long term and being creative with how they hire their staff. During the height of the pandemic in March 2020, many “everyday” workers were made to feel special in their roles because they were referred to as key workers, providing an essential service during a time in need and helping the country throughout the pandemic. Stories of helpful supermarket assistants taking on extra hours and delivery drivers doing everything they could to deliver goods to isolating customers were praised. This caused a surge in people applying to those roles because of their contribution to society at that time. Now, it’s hospitality’s turn to do the same and offer the same service. Creating job adverts that focus on the emotive narrative of helping people out during a time of happiness and joy after a year of pain can strike a chord with candidates.

Once you’ve got the emotive narrative down during the candidate hunting phase, then it’s about choosing employees that have potential, rather than the skills or the experience. Let’s face it, if someone has the available hours to work, is motivated and has an interest in the food and drink industry, then what makes them more or less capable of the role than someone who has 10 years’ experience? If candidates are coming from completely different industries or backgrounds, this can potentially bring in fresh and different ideas too, which can benefit the overall business and its operations.

It’s about re-thinking what the person who walks through the door can bring to the table – if it’s not necessarily the skills, is it the dedication? Is it simply the hours they can work? Is it their personality? Or, are they a fast learner? By choosing candidates beyond just looking at their skills but instead focusing on the other attributes they can bring to the company, (skills can be built up later), hospitality can not only ensure they hire people with good intentions for the business, but can also retain staff in the long term.