Operations Yet, despite rising fears of automation and the

very real catastrophe of Covid-19, something like a reverse Malthusian Trap has opened in the UK’s hospitality sector in 2021; the jobs are very much there, but it’s the workforce that isn’t. At first glance, this discrepancy seems remarkable and strange: surely, after a year of precarious pay, a year of working from the sofa, and after a year, for some, with no job at all, the hospitality sector – its doors finally open again – would be flooded with applications? Or so you might think. But as the Covid-19 crisis was playing out,

another force was at work in the UK: Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Call it a catastrophe or success, there is no denying that Brexit has played a huge role in this reverse Malthusian Gap, this dearth of key workers within the sector. “Brexit is undeniably a factor, as is Covid,” confirms Sophie Kilic, SVP for Human Resources at Accor Northern Europe. “Many international workers returned home and either can’t get back to the UK for work or have since found other jobs while UK hospitality was closed.”

Best-in-class hospitality The confluence of Brexit and Covid-19 has been something of a poisonous cocktail in many sectors across the country, and it has hit hospitality hard. Before Brexit, it is estimated that as many as 30% of hospitality workers nationwide were from Europe – a figure that rises to 50% in London. But the need for many European hospitality workers to return to their home countries – whether due to work permits or a desire to be with family during the pandemic – has decimated the hospitality workforce. Now, many of the potential candidates who would have filled these vacancies in the past simply aren’t there anymore. What’s more, for UK workers, or for those otherwise unaffected by Brexit, Covid-19 has raised legitimate concerns about working in the hospitality sector: many remain anxious about working around large numbers of people while the threat of the virus lingers; others may be concerned about working on a zero hours contract when the possibility of another lockdown still looms. Yet, as Kilic notes, these are not the only

circumstances that have contributed to today’s recruitment issues. “There are also pre-existing factors,” she explains. “The UK and Europe have different relationships with hospitality – it’s a career of choice in Europe, populated by leading hospitality schools, and in the UK, an outdated reputation for the sector still lingers.” Part of the problem, as Kilic implies, is that the UK simply doesn’t appear to value the hospitality sector as

Hotel Management International /

a career, in the way that many European countries do. The widespread introduction of zero hours contracts in the UK has only helped to reinforce the notion that jobs in the hospitality sector are merely temporary or starter positions – an image that has got to change if the country is going to get the sector back on its feet. As Joe Warwick, manager of Soho restaurant Sola, recently noted in The Evening Standard, “we need to get the message out there that there is a career in this, and that it can be a fun and rewarding job”.

“The UK and Europe have different relationships with hospitality – it’s a career of choice in Europe, populated by leading hospitality schools, and in the UK, an outdated reputation for the sector still lingers.”

Sophie Kilic For Kilic, the possibility for making this kind

of deep level change inheres in education. Across Europe, “the presence of a globally renowned hospitality school ricochets through country and region,” she notes. “You can’t underestimate the [importance] of best-in-class education to elevate a subject in the minds of candidates. Just like having a great teacher at school, having an educational system promoting hospitality from a young age could really make a difference in the [attraction] of our sector, and this would have a huge impact on the UK industry.”

A golden opportunity At Accor, Kilic and her colleagues are working on just such a system. The hotel company have recently “launched an apprenticeship scheme in the UK for new recruits and current employees looking to further their skills or move to a new area of the business”, Kilic explains. “The scheme will offer more than 250 apprenticeships throughout the UK in all brands from ibis to Fairmont. The programme covers several roles across the full business, including chefs, customer service, facilities management, outdoor activities, marketing, project management and events, reflecting the flexibility that many apprentices are looking for and the variety of role found in the hospitality industry.” Such investments in the future are all to the

good, but the crisis currently facing the sector demands that we devise short term solutions too, in order to keep valuable businesses alive at a moment when people need hospitality more than ever.

250 Accor 41

The number of apprenticeships on offer throughout the UK from Accor.

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