Hospitality’s employment challenge: Are we approaching the ‘workforce cliff?

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Hospitality businesses need to do more to retain and attract new members of staff
Hospitality businesses need to do more to retain and attract new members of staff

Related tags: Employment

The British Hospitality Association (BHA) and Women 1st have unanimously agreed with recent comments by McDonald’s chief people officer that the industry faces a future of stunted growth unless employers do more to attract young people.

David Fairhurst said the fast-food chain was beginning to feel the effects of the ‘workforce cliff’; with marginalised groups such as young people and older workers not being given enough incentive to enter a career in hospitality.

“The workforce is shrinking at both ends of the spectrum,” Fairhurst told the Financial Times. “There aren’t enough young people coming into the labour market and too many older people are leaving it.”

His comments come as new European Commission figures indicate that the European workforce will begin to shrink by approximately 0.5 percent per year from 2021 onwards.

Employment paradox

Despite hospitality being the fourth largest employment sector here in the UK, a number of industry bodies have since been in touch with BigHospitality; echoing Fairhursts views and urging businesses to do more to attract and nurture talent.

The BHA’s deputy chief executive Martin Couchman said: “The paradox is that while the available workforce is shrinking, there is still a very high level of youth unemployment. The challenge for our industry is that we are in competition for the very best talent and we need to show the attractiveness of hospitality as a challenging, rewarding and meaningful career option for all ages.

“During the recession, young people were particularly hard hit and the BHA, together with leaders from across the industry, set out to make a real difference by investing in young people. The Big Hospitality Conversation initiative has so far generated over 35,000 new jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities for 16-24 year olds."

Women 1st, the initiative that aims to increase the number of women in senior roles across the tourism and visitor economy sector, suggested that businesses should be looking to attract female workers if the industry is to avoid the UK’s impending ‘workforce cliff’.

McDonald's example

In hospitality in particular, we know that attracting and retaining women can make a huge difference to the workforce challenges we face.

“Our research shows that 310,000 women leave the hospitality industry each year. If they stayed, it would save the industry approximately £2.8bn in replacement recruitment and training, and there’s no doubt that it would go a long way towards addressing this rapidly approaching ‘workforce cliff’.”

“McDonald’s itself is a fantastic example of a company investing in developing its women – and its solutions work. Jill McDonald, president of McDonald’s Europe’s North West division, spoke at our annual Women 1st conference in 2012 and said the company had seen a 36 percent increase in women working in senior management positions after implementing networking and training programmes for female staff.

“By following McDonald’s example, other businesses can put themselves in the best position for growth in the future.”

Readers' Poll

What do you think? Do you agree with Fairhurst's comments? Has the issue of finding new staff members been a real issue for your business? Where do you think the problem lies; what needs to be done to ensure more talent is breaking through across the hospitality industry? Cast your vote in our readers’ poll and leave a comment below.

Are you looking for a job in hospitality? Or perhaps you want to hire a new employee for a key position within your company? Our jobs website -​ - specialises in vacancies across restaurants, hotels, bars, pubs and clubs.


Finding new staff: Where do the problems lie?

  • Single-dish and fast-casual restaurants: Fewer people are being trained on the job and skills are limited.

  • Education system: The food curriculum needs to be re-energised.

  • Government: More money should be provided to support hospitality training.

  • The media: TV chefs and cooking programs give young people the wrong impression.

  • Young people: The work ethic is not the same as it used to be.

  • Business owners: Should be more proactive in their efforts to attract new talent.


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