Brexit looms. How will the hospitality industry fare?

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, hospitality employment is on uncertain ground, and an air of uncertainty is making us all anxious.

In recent years, the hospitality sector has been pretty reliant upon EU labour. According to the British Hospitality Association 2017 report, 12.3% of hospitality employees are EU nationals.

And it’s not recent news that the hospitality sector has struggled with recruitment. For ‘recruit raw’/’hire smiles’-type recruitment approaches, where enthusiasm is all, but experience is completely absent, there are plenty of willing Gen Y applicants. But there is a different, and fundamental, aspect of the hospitality market which recruitment has struggled with for at least a decade – the hiring of experienced hospitality staff who have chosen this profession for the long term.


The challenge of recruiting hospitality experts

There is a dearth of pre-trained, experienced staff in the UK’s hospitality sector. This is looking at those with considerable talent and training, for example Chefs de Partie, sommeliers, and front of house staff with experience and training capable of serving them at a Michelin-standard establishment.

Ignite Economics’ analysis of the hospitality industry showed it was the third biggest employer in the UK 2018, accounting for 3.2 million jobs (direct employment, 2017) – with a further 2.8 million jobs created indirectly. The industry is also a massive earner for the UK economy, generating more than £72 billion of Gross Value Added directly to the UK economy, and a further £82 billion indirectly added.

The first decline in hospitality industry employment, a sector which has successfully weathered the post-recession stagnancy, happened last year – the first decline in employment in the sector in a decade. That noted, the sector is still on-track to deliver 100,000 new jobs by 2020.

All this means the UK has a massive market for hospitality professionals, and an absence of recruits.

If the predicted figures above are accurate, more than 10% of all UK employees will be working within catering and hospitality. And with at least 12.3% of those recruits from the EU, the future recruitment environment looks even more difficult, as European talent is potentially taken off the table, or at least made more difficult to access, post-Brexit. KPMG estimates the sector’s recruitment shortfall will amount to more than 60,000 roles per year, from this year.


The future: employing local; a culture change

This predicted sudden lack of EU recruits in a post-Brexit world could mean that staffing and recruitment are suddenly your company’s primary concern and core focus, above anything else. Businesses that recognise this could be one foot ahead in a post-Brexit environment – so retaining staff, and recruiting right, right now, have never been more important.

The hospitality industry has long struggled with British-born recruits, who are seen to be less efficient, less dedicated and less prepared to take on more menial roles.

The roots of this mentality lay, we believe, in a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the hospitality industry, its roles and their opportunities.

Migrant workers have long been considered more dedicated, stereotypically because they see hope in their role. They most likely come from a country with a different attitude to the UK – where opportunities for advancement in the hospitality industry are clear, the sector is respected, and a higher value is placed on the skills garnered. The UK attitude to the hospitality sector, meanwhile, stereotypically revolves around the thought that this is an easy go-to sector for the inexperienced, and from which you move on when you have sought training/further education.


Solutions for now, solutions for the future

The answer to this is a culture change; something which will not happen overnight. But we believe that such a culture change is already showing itself most transparently in the independent sector, where jobs tend to be more valued, staff more dedicated and retention tends to be higher. Mindful recruitment, employee benefits, development opportunities and consistent training are all vital tick boxes for now – whilst information days with schools and the local community may help a future generation to understand and value this crucial industry more highly.

Looking on a short term level, existing EU workers who have been in the UK for five years can apply for residency, and they are then likely to be allowed to become UK residents. After six years, they can apply for UK citizenship. For those who’ve been in the UK for only three years, you can sponsor them, at a cost of £2,000 – but this is only possible if they are imported, skilled workers, which in this industry is basically limited to chefs earning over £35,000. For those here for an even shorter period – we will need to keep an eye on the outcomes of Brexit. The Conservatives initially guaranteed the rights of EU workers already here to stay on post-Brexit – so there is hope that existing employees will have the right to remain.


Recruiting, retaining, motivating and training

These are the hallmarks of a firm likely to weather the post-Brexit slump.

Brexit will force employment to the top of the hospitality industry’s agenda – which will result in an overturn of employee conditions, rights and responsibilities, as hospitality fights to recruit its share of a limited pool of young UK talent. Ironically, this could lead the way for the industry’s reputation (overworked, underpaid) to get a complete overhaul, potentially attracting the next generation to a career in an industry which should be exciting, diverse, and full of potential.