On November 22, 2021, EHL hosted the International Advisory Board (IAB) conference on campus. This was the first IAB meeting on-site in two years. Their two days were packed with presentations from faculty members, students and workshops on pressing topics in the hospitality industry. One such workshop, entitled ‘Employability Skills in the 21st Century: A Post-Covid-19 Reflection’, was hosted by Dr. Laura Zizka and Dr. Maggie Chen and tackled the hospitality labor crisis.
Closing the hospitality skills gap
The original idea of offering a workshop on employability skills was envisioned for the 2020 version of the IAB. The purpose was to narrow the gap between the expectations of the industry and the expectations of young alumni regarding employability. There seems to be a fundamental divide between what was needed, what was being taught in hospitality management programs, and what the alumni were bringing into the workplace.
Fast forward two years later, and the necessity of this workshop was even more apparent. With the ever-changing sanitary conditions due to Covid-19, with the opening, closing and opening again of venues and restaurants, and with the months of furlough or, simply, no work, hospitality employees have run for the hills. Out of necessity or to keep busy, many hospitality employees found jobs in other sectors. They discovered 9-to-5 hours, free weekends, and, in some instances, better conditions.
The hospitality labor crisis
Now, however, with the vaccine and Covid pass, it is time to come home, back to their hospitality roots. Yet, trying to bring them back is proving more difficult than was thought.
Studies have come out citing the reasons employees do not want to return to hospitality. In one study by joblist.com (2021), the employee shortage in hospitality is seen as nothing short of a crisis and the numbers are staggering. 69% of respondents claimed that nothing would change their mind to return to hospitality. 74% believe that employers need to re-think their workplace benefits if they want to entice their employees back. So what do employees want? According to this study, employees want better healthcare, more flexibility, and paid sick and parental leave.
Concrete actions to bring back the hospitality workforce
We had the luxury of having our IAB members with us to devise concrete actions to bring employees back. In round tables consisting of IAB, management and students, we set them the task to address what employees want and what could be done about it. In short, how could we bridge the gap in 2021?
Participants began by stating the most important employability skills. The essential skills are adaptability, leadership, team-player, assertiveness, followed by customer focus, self-motivation, problem-solving, proactivity, and concluding with leadership and verbal communication. However, what was more fascinating were the new skills that employers identified as crucial over the past two years of the Covid-19 workplace. These new skills included: transparency, creativity, empathy, embracing challenges, passion, trust, resilience, agility and innovation.
But a list of employability skills was not our goal; we wanted to dig deeper to find how we could link the skills to employees’ wishes to attract our greatest asset back to the workplace.
Some of the concrete suggestions were:
- Flexible work schedules (sabbaticals, 4-day work week, working around the rhythm of employees).
- Work-life balance (offering a safe haven to seek and give feedback; co-creation of new ideas and projects in the workplace; Chief Wellness Officers; job sharing).
- Lifelong learning (opportunities to follow training programs à la carte; individualized/personalized learning journeys; creating a learning path with a mentor).
In these sessions, we agreed that now is the time to make changes to attract the employees back. We have the opportunity to build the industry back better - together.
Attracting and retaining employees in Hospitality
To conclude and to shape the hospitality industry of the future, here are the five takeaways from the sessions.
- People want to be heard and seen as part of a community.
- Adaptability leads to survival-of-the-fittest.
- Creativity and empathy are crucial.
- There is a disconnect or gap between employees and management regarding the skills.
- We must be more human-centric moving forward.
In short, we hear you, we see you, we need you… please come back!