Recruitment and retention woes for tourism and hospitality firms as need to close skills gap intensifies

New research launched by the Hospitality and Tourism Skills Network (HATS), supported by Tourism NI, Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, Hospitality Ulster and People 1st International sheds light on some of the deep-rooted staffing issues impacting upon the sector, leading to calls for greater investment in employee retention and development.  

84% of employers said they had experienced difficulties filling vacancies in the past twelve months. 67% said that they experienced challenges in retaining staff, with some employers estimating annual staff turnover to be as high as 75%.

The research, which was carried out in the run up to the industry’s so-called ‘golden quarter’ also revealed that losing staff within the first six months is increasingly common and less than a third of employers feel that there are clear progression routes within their organisation.

The recruitment and retention struggles experienced by all but a small handful of employers is compounded by the rise in the ‘accidental manager’ as well as a perceived lack of opportunity in the sector according to the HATS Network.

These calls echo those made by others in recent times for the sector to get to grips with some of the underlying structural issues that sorely need addressing, validated by the fact that only 30% of employers said they feel the training and development they offer fully meets the skills needs of employees.

Roisin McKee, Project Director of the HATS Network says that these latest findings are a clarion call for the industry and partners to prioritise leadership and management skills to help businesses recruit, retain and develop employees more effectively and to take action to close the skills gap to help grow an internationally competitive industry. 

“The tourism and hospitality industry is strategically important to the Northern Ireland economy in terms of its potential to generate growth and create jobs. Research commissioned by NITA estimates that in 2021, tourism contributed £2.4bn to the economy and accounted for 7% of all jobs. It is also a growth engine for multiple sectors. For example, an estimated 27% of retail revenues are generated by the tourist spend.

“To support the growth of the sector and contribute to the delivery of the government’s 10X Economic Vision of positioning Northern Ireland amongst the most competitive small, advanced economies in the world, access to a highly skilled, motivated and engaged workforce is critical.

“Traditionally, high labour turnover has been seen as the norm. However, rising staff costs and a competitive labour market means that businesses are having to rethink their strategy. Shifting the emphasis to retaining talented staff is essential. To achieve this, we need to build the management and leadership capabilities within the sector, which in turn will drive retention and productivity.”

The research underscores the fact that managers in the sector have often been promoted because of their technical skills, without receiving formal management and leadership development. This rise of the ‘accidental manager’ has led to managers not having the skills needed to manage, motivate and retain staff effectively. A recent study by the Chartered Management Institute demonstrates the significance of this problem with ‘accidental managers’ contributing to almost one in three workers quitting.

Roisin continues:

“Many businesses are working harder than ever to offer a better quality job experience and to build a better reputation as an employment destination of choice. The research showcases a number of the successful approaches being adopted by employers.

“Whilst progress is being made to address the challenges faced, there’s still much to do which requires concerted and co-ordinated action across industry, government and key delivery partners.

“We need to ensure that sufficient work is done to attract and retain a skilled and sustainable workforce and to provide high-quality training and development that is the platform to an attractive and rewarding career in the long-term. Our research identifies a number of ways forward to address this.”

View the State of the Workforce 2023 findings in full and find out more

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