The U.S. unemployment rate has been almost negligible and historically low for months, which makes recruiting and retaining workers in the hospitality industry particularly challenging. The lower unemployment rates fall, David Mansbach, managing director at Aethos Consulting Group, told Hotel Management, the more hotels “compete with other segments such as retail and restaurants. At the lower levels, they are typically going to follow the money.” At the same time, U.S. policies have enforced tighter restrictions on immigration and work visas, squeezing the flow of workers from outside the U.S. It’s a perfect storm for the hospitality industry.
As an indication of how the situation has become more problematic, less than one-quarter of hotel members of the Washington Hospitality Association said locating and maintaining workers was their biggest challenge in 2016; by 2018, more than one-third cited employment issues as their biggest challenge.
When hotel properties can’t find enough qualified workers to meet their needs, hotel-based meetings and events feel the effects. As challenges persist, a number of industry players are introducing solutions, including technology-based outsourcing, workforce development, and even legislative changes.
Outsourced and Tech-Based Services
As in other industries, hotels are finding ways to use technology to minimize the need for some human workers. In recent years, more hotels have embraced mobile technologies, allowing for digital check-in and check-out and even mobile phone entry to guest rooms.
A number of Uber-like tech services are now available for hotels to outsource food service and delivery, customer service, and even housekeeping. While outsourcing may present challenges with maintaining the brand’s service throughout the entire guest experience, it can help ease the burden of worker shortages.
Developing the Workforce
But more important than embracing technology, say some industry insiders, is finding ways to recruit and train more qualified hospitality workers. “Every CEO knows that at its core, the hotel industry is about people — more than 8 million who proudly work in and support our industry, and the guests we serve,” said Rosanna Maietta, president of the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation (AHLEF) and executive vice president of communications at the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). “But more can be done with smart policy solutions that allow hoteliers to further expand opportunity and grow our workforce.”
In response, AHLEF is working to address the issue of retaining and attracting talent to the industry by launching a new campaign, Hospitality is Working. The goals of the campaign include enrolling 50,000 candidates into new and existing AHLA apprenticeship programs in the next five years. Over the same time period, the campaign aims to certify 125,000 job seekers and current employees with industry certifications and train and certify 8,000 Opportunity Youth, ages 16 to 24, and connect them to potential employers in the hospitality industry in markets of high need. The campaign also plans to award more than $5 million in scholarships and help more than 5,000 hospitality employees earn a college degree at no cost in the next five years.
“Hospitality Is Working underscores how our industry is proactively supporting our workforce, protecting our employees and guests, and investing in our communities,” Maietta said. “Our commitment to investing in the next generation is stronger than ever, and is demonstrated by AHLEF awarding another $500,000 to community-based organizations in six key markets where the labor market is tight. With the support of AHLA’s members, we are focused on advancing our mission to bridge the employment gap and make our communities even more vibrant.”
Similar commitments are underway on a regional basis. For instance, the Washington State Legislature is currently considering a bill, HB 1556, that would provide grants for employers that hire people experiencing homelessness, veterans or their spouses, or people seeking hospitality-related jobs. The grants would not only help connect employers with people who are most in need of finding employment, but they would also require employers to connect employees with other needed services such as child care or transportation.
Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama.
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