Gordon Campbell Gray, chairman of CampbellGray Hotels, ignited the debate in his key note speech at the Boutique Hotel Summit at Altitude London yesterday.
“It’s an awful problem in our industry; the elephant in the room,” he said. “This total idleness in general of the British youth - it is so sad that we’ve got this problem in the UK.
“Some young people don’t want to work on weekends, well poor them – that’s just not the way the world works. I worked every weekend when I was training.
“This is the best industry in the world, you can have fun, the conditions are superb, people are paid properly and they have an amazing opportunity to travel. But they just don’t want to work.
“We’ve a very serious problem in trying to make our industry appear more appealing. What can we do?”
The issue of recruiting and retaining staff was then addressed in a panel discussion later in the day, entitled The Hub of the Wheel. A selection of general managers agreed that it is a burgeoning problem for the sector, and one that must be tackled head on.
“One of the poor things about this industry is that we make excuses,” said Chris Penn, general manager of Flemings Hotel. “I get asked all the time if I find it difficult to recruit or retain people ‘because of our industry.’
“If you’re happy to use the excuse of ‘it’s our industry’, then you’ll never solve the issues within your own business. So I will never agree that it’s hard because of the nature of hotels, it’s the same in any industry.
“The key thing is to just look after your people.”
Debra Dhugga from Dukes Hotel added: “It was difficult for us, from the point of view of the hotel’s location. It’s quite hard to get good, motivated, quality people to come on board on an operational level in the East End of London, which is more renowned for its gangsters and hoodies than for its quality hotels.
“But we started off with a fantastic team and passion can be contagious. If you manage your staff by walking around and caring; taking a personal interest with them. They remember that far longer than you will.”
It’s up to us…
David Hughes from Hotel Indigo Liverpool concluded that the problem is not industry-led, but in fact often lies with hoteliers themselves.
“It’s certainly not an industry-led problem,” said Hughes. “The problem lies with us as hoteliers a lot of the time. We’ve just got to change our attitude towards it and celebrate what benefits there are.
“I’ve been to some of the best locations around the world because of the industry that I’m in. It’s up to us to get out there, get into the schools, talk to the kids and tell them what a great industry it actually is.
“People entering this industry can do everything and anything; if they’re great at maths they can be an accountant and still work in a hotel – they’re the sort of things that we miss when telling people that there are great jobs out there in our hotel industry. There’s lots of jobs as well, there are so many hotels opening.”
Recruiting the right staff and then retaining them is notoriously difficult in the hospitality industry, but it isn't impossible. If you're having problems finding suitable talent for vacant positions or keeping hold of them when you do find them, read our three-part guide to recruiting and retaining staff here.