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Minding the skills gap in the hospitality industry

3rd Jul 2013
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Sharon Glancy details the challenges facing the hospitality and service industry.

In many ways the hospitality industry is in a strong position. It contributed £40.6bn to the UK economy in 2011 and employment in the sector is higher than average for the economy as a whole. The 2013 State of the Nation report, which surveyed more than 2,000 employers from across the hospitality and tourism sector, revealed that employers were generally optimistic about the future.

However the report, which looks at the labour market, trends and skills and training and education needs, also reveals the extent to which skills gaps are affecting the industry. 21% of employers report skills gaps and many say that their staff don’t have the necessary customer service and management and leadership skills they need.

A lack of investment in training is not the issue. The industry invests a significant amount of money each year in training (an average of £1,975 for every employee in the sector, which is higher than the £1,775 average across the whole economy) but the State of the Nation report has shown that a lot of training is being directed at entry-level positions. Middle management positions, in particular, are not being offered the development opportunities they require.

The research also found that only 41% of organisations offered training in the past 12 months, which means that there are a lot of people missing out. The fact that most of the money is being directed towards elementary occupations is largely due to the industry’s high turnover rates, and it has become a vicious cycle that we need to stop.

Staff turnover is a huge issue for the sector. Over the last few years, a lot of effort has gone into promoting the industry and attracting the ‘right’ people and this has paid off. The emphasis now needs to be on retention and up-skilling people within an organisation. As the economy picks up, the sector will face stiff competition from other industries and will need to make sure that it has strong learning and development opportunities in place to ensure that it can retain talent. Making sure that staff have the right skills is one way we must respond to this challenge.

"Only 36% of organisations provide training directed at addressing individual needs. This is not nearly enough to develop the skills we need as a sector either now or in the future."

There are a number of established training programmes teaching skills associated with entry and early career levels, offering a valuable foundation to those starting out in the industry. But those who have experience already and are looking to step up into management and leadership roles require far more tailored and personalised training if they are to continue to develop.

Only 36% of organisations provide training directed at addressing individual needs. This is not nearly enough to develop the skills we need as a sector either now or in the future. Without investment in training that targets an individual’s specific learning needs, the skill gaps will not close.

Yet there are moves within the industry to make sure that these gaps are addressed, especially with the development of training programmes aimed specifically at helping people advance in their career.

For example, the Institute of Hospitality offers a range of continuing professional development (CPD) programmes online, while the Savoy Educational Trust launched an MBA scholarship for people working in hospitality management positions to ensure that future hospitality leaders are ‘fit for purpose' and are equipped with the skills and knowledge to guide the growing industry.

Finally, a new Higher Apprenticeship in Hospitality Management has been developed to bridge the gap between the supervisory skills gained in an apprentice's early career and the strategic management skills required to work at a senior level. Whereas intermediate and advanced apprenticeships focus on developing the front line and supervisory skills employers need within their organisation, the new Higher Apprenticeship is designed to provide a clear career development path into management.

Training programmes such as these offer employers effective solutions to meet their training needs and it has never been more accessible or affordable to offer training either. Group and individual training can now be delivered face-to-face or online – in-house or externally – providing employers greater flexibility.

Fortunately employers appear to be committed to training and development. Our research found that 23% of businesses were likely to increase their training spend, while a further 68% were planning to retain it at current levels; only 4% were expecting a decrease. This gives us further hope that the industry will respond appropriately to address its skill gaps.

Equipping employees with the skills they need to respond to the changing needs of customers will ensure success not just for an individual organisation, but also for the wider sector and, ultimately, the UK economy.

Sharon Glancy is managing director of the People 1st Training Company

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