Colin Neill: Power of hospitality sector lies in people - so address labour shortage

The power of the hospitality sector lies in its people. But amid concerns around the shortage of labour, we can't sit back and let the opportunity for growth get away from us
Colin Neill

MUCH has been written about recent labour shortages and the impact that they have had across all aspects of our economy.

The unfortunate reality of the pandemic is that the hospitality sector was hit the hardest and has taken the longest to recover. The repeated lockdowns and many false dawns took a significant toll on those working in the hospitality sector.

While still ranked as Northern Ireland’s fourth largest private sector employer, it proudly supports tens of thousands of people and provides jobs for everyone from seasonal staff right through to lifelong careers for senior managers.

But it is apparent that we have lost many of those key staff who have gone off into other careers, changed jobs, or may still have not decided to return to their previous roles.

Although every sector is struggling with staff shortages, the lack of staff is felt more intensely in the hospitality sector as we are a people-based industry. This has meant that many business owners have had to take tough decisions and close their premises on certain days/nights of the week, not only because they don’t have the staff, but to give their teams a well-earned rest after working longer hours during the remainder of the week.

The power of the hospitality sector lies in its people. You often don’t think twice about the skill, talent and mastery that goes into the perfectly poured pint, the fantastic dinner, the greeting and conversation when checking in, sometimes in several languages. These are the moments when the customer or tourist experience is so good it means grater spend, longer stays, more custom.

It is no secret that there are great concerns around the shortage of labour, but we cannot sit back and let opportunity for growth, albeit from a low base, get away from us. We need to draw lots more good people to the hospitality sector. We want to grow.

That’s why we have developed the Hospitality Employers Charter so that businesses can demonstrate their commitment to training and developing staff, paying good rates for the jobs and attracting talent to begin or return to lifelong and valued careers.

The charter, which many of the leading hospitality businesses across Northern Ireland have signed, shows the industry’s commitment to focus on the people who make hospitality the thriving industry it was pre-pandemic.

As we move out of spring and into the better weather of summertime and some of the best months for the sector, we are intent on moving forward, through change and innovation, and building back to the success pre-Covid.

There is no denying that we are at the very early stages of this sector led renaissance, but a huge effort is now under way by the entire industry.

:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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