Hospitality industry addressing lack of soft skills

A report issued by the workforce development charity People 1st suggests that a lack of soft skills – such as teamwork, complaint handling and general customer service – could be costing the hospitality industry huge amounts of revenue.

The report suggests that such skills are worth nearly £90 billion to the UK economy alone, and almost £8 billion to the food and retails services markets. The report also suggests that employers feel that such skills are missing in around eighty percent of the applicants who put themselves forwards for hospitality roles.

Other figures quoted by the report state that of the businesses that were asked to give an opinion:

  • 55% say that job applicants don’t possess relevant customer-handling skills
  • 53% say they lack planning and organisational skills
  • 51% say they lack sufficient abilities in oral communication; and
  • 44% say they lack the skills needed to work effectively as part of a team

Additionally, employers feel that such skills are missing in existing employees. Three out of five hospitality businesses say they feel that their staff are not efficient in handling customer complaints, and one in four admit they feel they have lost important business as a direct result.

The executive director of People 1st, Martin-Christian Kent, believes that the tourism and hospitality sectors are struggling to attract the right employees to the industry, and that businesses are suffering as a result.

“The impact the lack of soft skills has upon hospitality and tourism businesses is huge.” he said. “We are a people-oriented industry and, if staff don’t have these skills, it can be highly damaging. It can result in loss of business, difficulty meeting quality standards and overworking the existing workforce.

“We need to compete better when it comes to attracting more able applicants into the industry or, alternatively, find more effective ways of developing these skills.”

The report goes on to suggest measures by which hospitality companies are attempting to address this lack of soft skills that seems inherent in the industry.

Plenty of hospitality businesses are going beyond UK borders in order to recruit sufficiently-talented employees. This is not because of a lack of UK applicants; it is simply because migrant workers are perceived to possess better soft skills than native employees. It is estimated that around twenty-five percent of tourism and hospitality employees were not born in the UK.

Other companies use stricter or more creative selection processes that go far beyond the standard one-on-one interview. Such application processes include organising team tasks using groups of potential candidates, including role-playing and scenario

But Toby Holt, Director of Operations at hospitality recruiter Berkeley Scott thinks that this is a too simplistic attack on UK workers “The challenge is not that the people are not out there, it’s just much more complex to source them. Recruitment is a job in itself which is why some companies who don’t allocate resources to it are suggesting that the skills are not out there. Actually it is more likely that their recruitment strategy is flawed. Years ago you could place an advert and that was it, now it needs a bi-media approach and a continuous recruitment campaign. We know because this is what we do in order to supply our clients with the very best talent.” Holt notes that “of course the sector is growing and as such demand outstrips supply, which is why there are some people working in it whose skills are not the finished article, but it is fair to say that the employers who look after their staff well have the highest calibre. I still passionately believe we have the best hospitality staff in the world, but we do need to pull together.”

Whatever methods are chosen, hospitality and tourism businesses are beginning to understand how important it is to plug these soft-skill talent shortfalls. The UK economy may be recovering after the recession, but there is still work to do for the hospitality sector.