April’s unemployment rate is at 6.1% but the lodging sector’s unemployment rate is at 13.8% due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is where it was also 30 years ago.  Although the industry is seeing a demand for jobs, the labor pool is shallow. 

The problem is leading some experts to advise the industry to change the way recruitment and retention was done pre-crisis.  On episode 322 of Long Live Lodging, Hospitality industry leaders joined hosts Jon Albano and Judy Maxwell to discuss how the hospitality industry can explore ways of overcoming hiring challenges and how people’s unwillingness or inability to return to their hotel job is impacting hoteliers’ pandemic recovery plans.

Featured Industry Leader Panelists:

Challenges Being Faced that are Causing the Labor Shortage:

  • Extended unemployment benefits that last through September
  • Lack of childcare due to school districts and childcare centers not being fully reopened
  • Some front-line workers remain fearful of contracting COVID-19 while at work
  • Laid off or terminated workers in 2020 have left the industry completely
  • Demand for wage increases for new hires and veteran employees
  • Lackluster image of the industry and the appeal of other industries

Ideas Discussed to Overcome the Labor Shortage:

  • Offer incentive programs for housekeeping to apply and come to interviews and pay incentive once hired
  • Recruit employees from outside the industry
  • Consider hiring highly skilled gig workers to fill positions and build teams
  • Rethink reliance on in-house full-time employees to using hybrid-staffing to fill roles as demand dictates
  • Consider outsourcing for skilled employees

Highlights from Bill Scanlon of Strategic Solution Partners:

Bill Scanlon is founder and president of Strategic Solution Partners, which helps companies’ hiring processes and offers consulting across a range of disciplines. The company conducted a comprehensive hospitality gig study survey and its findings reveal the industry’s talent loss went deep. Ninety-five percent of hospitality teams experienced layoffs or furloughs. Half of hoteliers surveyed lost more than half their staff. And corporations reduced their teams by 60 percent.

Hoteliers surveyed said they’re looking for candidates who are multi-disciplined. They note it’s essential to business recovery that prospective new recruits and even employees they laid off and want to bring back are skilled at more than one job.

As the industry positions itself for a post-pandemic recovery, hotel companies want to build a starting bench with employees who are versatile and experienced.

Like Ross observed, hoteliers want and need to hire people back but their selectiveness in whom they’re hiring has created a complicated mess.

“This goes back to the talent cuts in the very beginning,” Scanlon said. “Not only did you get rid of all of the property-level people, you got rid of the people that supported them on the regional level. And then you get rid of the people that supported them at the corporate level.”

Middle-management job cuts have enabled companies to save on costs, Scanlon said. The return of the leisure traveler is challenging hoteliers’ pandemic staffing models because the demand is uneven, filling up hotels on weekends but emptying out mid-week, which business travelers previously claimed.

Hotels are “trying to run an operation that’s a two- or three-day operation instead of a seven-day-a-week operation. So that makes it difficult to bring people back,” Scanlon said.

He is also aware of hospitality professionals who lost their jobs in the pandemic applying to numerous positions only to be ignored by prospective employers. He suspects it’s because the companies no longer have human resources departments and hotel companies are not rebuilding management infrastructure just yet.

“There are a lot of things going on right now that aren’t working in favor of people being hired back.”

As the Strategic Solution Partner study reveals, versatility is a strong asset in getting rehired in the hospitality industry.

But Scanlon notes many experienced folks have transferred their well-honed skills to land jobs outside of the lodging industry.

“The talent loss is very deep across the board and it’s left everybody pretty much hamstrung,” he said. “Multiple disciplinary skill sets are going to be needed going forward. The recovery is going to be very long and unpredictable.”

Click HERE to listen to the full podcast!