UK hoteliers seek Parliament backing in labor struggles
UK hoteliers seek Parliament backing in labor struggles
11 SEPTEMBER 2018 8:22 AM

With support from some members of Parliament, the U.K. hotel industry is looking to battle negative perceptions that have caused it to be largely overlooked as a viable career path.

LONDON—Despite being the third-largest employer in the United Kingdom’s private sector, the hospitality industry is often viewed as an interlude between education and a career. That’s a perception hoteliers hope to change with the support of some members of Parliament.

Members from the ruling Conservative Party and main opposition Labour Party, as well as hoteliers and executives from industry lobbyist organizations, met Monday in the Palace of Westminster to launch the “UKHospitality Workforce Commission 2030 report: The changing face of hospitality.”

The report comes with the admittance the industry has often failed to reach employment targets.

“Given the size of the industry, that it is treated as a Cinderella is outrageous,” said Nic Dakin, Labour Party Member of Parliament for Scunthorpe and chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Education. Dakin also is a former principal at John Leggott College, which includes in its curriculum courses in travel and tourism.

“Hospitality is the third-largest private-sector employer (in the U.K.), employing 3.2 million people nationwide, and if you look at the broader supply chain, it is five million,” said Kate Nicholls, CEO of principal U.K. hospitality lobby organization UKHospitality.

Founded in February, UKHospitality spearheaded the report to lobby for support from the government.

The organization aims to changes minds that the work shifts in the U.K. hotel industry make it difficult to lead an active social life. Another misconception it hopes to erase is that the U.K. government treats the industry as a cash cow and doesn’t give it the attention it deserves.

Central to the report are nine recommendations, for both politicians and businesspeople, as well as 50 examples in which the industry has made a positive change in people’s lives.

Speaking at Parliament for the launch of the report, Michael Chambers, chef-apprentice at the 299-room Park Plaza Victoria London, said prior to the start of his apprenticeship 11 months ago he had “been busy doing a lot of nothing.”

“There’s not enough publicity around apprenticeships. I had to do a lot of digging,” he said, adding that he was spurred on by his love of cooking.

“The scheme gives people pride, something to strive towards,” Chambers said. “It allows me to get a level of confidence I would not have had before, the confidence to say I am willing to learn, I know what it takes, the long hours and everything.”

Dakin said the industry should get involved in education at the school system’s primary level, which in the U.K. comprises students usually between the ages of 7 and 11.

Labor amid full employment
Nicholls said such stories and education are integral to marketing the industry at what all agree to be a critical juncture.

“Increasingly around a time when there is a great deal of concern around travel costs and housing costs, it is local industry providing local employment for all ages and skill levels,” she said. “When we talk to politicians, they do not understand the great range of skills needed to run a hospitality business. They don’t recognize the range of opportunities that we provide as a sector.”

Nicholls said the principal challenge is the search for talent, especially young talent in the era of Brexit. She also spoke of the need to banish myth in the industry, such as kitchens being macho, noisy and only for the strong-willed.

“(These are) significant, challenging times as we leave the EU, to make sure we ... continue to have access to migrant labor post-Brexit … and to also make U.K. residents aware of the opportunities,” said Steve Double, Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Saint Austell and Newquay and chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group on the Visitor Economy.

There is also a need to raise the status of the hotel industry “so that people see (the industry) as a very good, positive, long-term career opportunity,” he added.

Nicholls said though “there is a well-publicized labor shortage … it is labor, not skills.”

A shortage of more than 200,000 workers ages 18 to 24 is expected by 2020, with no recovery of this labor force until 2025, she said.

“And this is happening in an economy that basically is at full employment,” she said. “Where are those team members going to come from in the future? And we can’t take away from the fact over the last two years this sector in this economy has failed to achieve the growth targets and job creation targets that (we) had since the last recession, simply because of the intense cost pressure it has been facing.”

She said the answers start with having “a supportive regulatory framework that can allow us to attract the talent we need, to reward it appropriately, (and) to invest in training.”

Join hands
Nicholls called for the industry to come together in an economy in which companies have seen “one-third wiped off their margins.”

She mentioned five pillars of the report presented at Parliament:

  • to challenge negativity around employment in the industry and to underline the quality and standard of jobs in it;
  • to develop a closer working relationship with the government’s Department of Work & Pensions;
  • to develop soft skills, which the majority of people coming into the industry will need to hone before those skills become transferable;
  • to urgently review the effectiveness of the apprenticeship levy launched in April 2017 and concerns as to how the “levy disproportionately impacts (small and medium enterprises), which make up more than 90% of the (U.K.) hospitality industry;” and
  • to create 10,000 hospitality positions and 200,000 apprenticeships over the next five years.

Nichols said UKHospitality wants to see the apprenticeship levy cap raised from 10% to 50% to help small and medium enterprises, and the required 20% of apprentices’ work hours for off-the-job training and development split between the employer’s and worker’s free time.

Michael Tomlinson, Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Mid Dorset and North Poole and chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Youth Employment, raised a persistent concern for the industry.

“So often young people will look at hospitality not as a career in and of itself but as a first step on a ladder to somewhere else, so how refreshing it is to see the hospitality industry saying, ‘No, we don’t want that to be the case,’” he said.

Executives at Whitbread PLC, owner of the Premier Inn and Hub by Premier Inn brands, added to the report there is a “need to highlight how the industry provides real career progression,” and noted “one in four Whitbread hotel managers were originally apprentices when they joined.”

To combat a supposed reduction in migrant workers following Brexit, the report also called for temporary visas to be issued, and developing “a sustainable system (that) is built on evidence rather than arbitrary figures.”

The full report can be read here.

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