Hospitality Labour Shortages: Why the public & private sectors need to think outside the box

The hospitality sector skills shortage has received a recent rush of concern and publicity, with government ministers meeting to discuss concerns and ideas such as hospitality boot camps where Job Centre candidates are sent to pick up key hospitality skills and placed in easy take up roles.  

There is also talk of hospitality being added to the shortage occupation list, alongside care, health and STEM roles, in order to keep everything running. The run up to Christmas could prove particularly challenging. 

What has caused the skills shortage? 

The Covid-19 pandemic had a particularly adverse impact on talent availability in the hospitality sector. Repeated lockdowns shut down the industry and despite the furlough scheme, many people had to find alternative employment in new remits such as retail.  

However, once the sector was able to open again, many workers didn’t return. Having discovered that they could work different, sometimes more amenable, hours, a significant proportion of ex-hospitality employees chose to continue on a different career path. 

Brexit is another factor which has impacted the availability of hospitality workers. As with HGV drivers, many staff in the sector chose – or had no other option than – to return to their home country following the UK’s exit from the European Union.  

In fact, according to The Caterer, around 92,000 hospitality workers are estimated to have left the country in the year that followed Brexit. Unfortunately, even for those looking to return should the government put hospitality on the shortage occupation list, the Tier 2 visa restrictions mean that many will be unlikely to have a contract of employment that meets the annual salary requirement of such a visa.  

This exodus of talent has had a lasting impact on the sector. In fact, in the summer of 2023, trade body, UK Hospitality, revealed that vacancies were 48% higher than pre-Covid levels. These hiring difficulties are being noted in both the public and private sector, but focusing specifically on local authorities and other public sector employers, the shortage of catering and cleaning staff in hospitality is significant.  

In its Big Workforce Survey, the Association for Public Service Excellence, found that over 55% of its members were facing severe or moderate difficulties recruiting these resources. We also saw reports back in July of restaurants in the Houses of Parliament facing no other option than to reduce opening hours as a result of staff shortages. 

This hospitality skills shortage isn’t just affecting private hotels, pubs, restaurants and resorts. 

Hospitality skill shortages in the public sector 

The public sector hospitality services skills shortages have been an issue for some time – in fact, some reports suggest that the sector has been “understaffed since 2006, with a steady 90,000 unfilled vacancies since 2017.” 

Hospitality workers in the public sector cover a wide range of roles, including hospital and care home canteens and cafes, school meal production and supervision, and home care food preparation and delivery. All of these are essential roles to ensure both a good quality standard of care for those involved, and to ensure a good working environment for those working in the public sector.

Without these workers the public sector cannot run efficiently and there will be a domino effect on how this affects society.  

Patients able to go home but unable to access home food provision will be stuck in hospital, where skills shortages will mean that meals are inconsistently delivered, putting the onus of care on friends and relatives, with morale low in the hospital where members of staff aren’t able to access food and drink services.  

Meanwhile, children are getting a lower standard of food in their schools due to labour shortages there as well, putting further pressure on their parents to subsidise the school food provision. 

Targeting underrepresented groups as a labour shortage solution 

Identifying and engaging previously untapped pools of talent is a growing way of overcoming the skills and labour shortage taking place in the hospitality industry - in both the public and private sector.  

This might include a wide range of underrepresented groups that hadn’t previously considered hospitality as a career option and/or have hospitality skills but hadn’t thought to use these skills in the public sector. 

Ex offenders are one such group. Only 17% of ex-offenders are in employment within 12 months of leaving prison and if this number could be increased, not only could the UK cut reoffending by at least 9%, but skills shortages could also be reduced. 

There are already big names looking into how ex-offenders might make the transition from prison to gainful employment in hospitality. First Dates star Fred Sirieix has set up a charity to train prisoners in the hospitality industry, spanning three prisons to date, with significant success. According to the charity, 61 individuals entered the programme in the first two years, with 95% of them obtaining at least one level 2 NVQ in hospitality areas. 

Obtaining qualifications is only half of the battle though. Employers – to include the public sector – need to create partnerships with prisons and their workforce partners, working together with prisons to identify how to help ex-offenders find the right positions. If successful, these employers may find that these ex-offenders turned hospitality workers go on to be some of their most motivated and loyal employees.  

For more examples of inclusive workforce solutions, take a look our whitepaper on recruiting from underrepresented groups, including age, gender, background and work history.

Read the full whitepaper on Navigating Skills Shortages Through Inclusive Workforce Solutions

Comensura are here to help  

Since 2001 we’ve been helping organisations plan, build and manage their workforces. We save companies money and time, ensuring full compliance and quality at every step. We bring simplicity to the complex process of acquiring contingent and permanent talent, workforce management, and people-based services procurement. All of this is made possible by our proprietary, adaptive tech, as well as data-driven insights and a team of experts dedicated to making a difference.    

If you are struggling with finding the hospitality talent you need, we have strategies, advice, and solutions from our experienced team to help. Simply drop us a message on our contact us page.