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Will free movement in Brexit negotiations force hospitality leaders to consider a greater gig economy?

20 Jun 09:00 by Fiona McKay

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As we stand firmly on the first leg of Brexit negotiations the UK's stance on free movement for EU citizens is one of the key pillars for discussion and is a huge area of uncertainty which has forced leaders in the hospitality sector to explore solutions such as apprenticeships, gig working and automation to conquer potential staff shortages if no positive agreement on free movement can be agreed.

To highlight the need for such action, a recent study by KPMG for the British Hospitality Association (BHA) revealed that a quarter of all hospitality staff are made up of EU citizens, with 75 per cent of the UK's waiting staff, 37 per cent of housekeeping staff and a quarter of chefs hailing from EU countries. The report also calculated that, should immigration from the EU become too tightly controlled, the hospitality sector faces a shortfall of as much as 60,000 workers.

Working with a number of leaders in this sector, the team at Lightbulb Leadership Solutions has first hand experience of some of the ways in which these leaders are taking action in anticipation of possible impending staff shortages. 

Engaging and attracting potential hospitality workers from the UK requires an entirely new approach compared to traditional recruitment practices. This is no mean feat; not only does the hospitality industry have an image issue to contend with, but the requirements of today's employees have shifted considerably in the past decade. 

It's for this reason that hospitality leaders are increasingly investing in apprenticeship schemes and training programmes for young people looking to develop vocational skills post-education. However, leaders realise there's a step that goes before this, and that's to sell the benefits of the hospitality industry to young people. Sharing success stories of progression to school and college groups has proven fruitful for some hospitality businesses to encourage sign-ups to apprenticeship schemes. 

One thing employers need to consider when focusing on recruiting the next generation of UK workers into the hospitality industry is the growing appetite for flexible working. While gig economy working has come under fire in recent months, with companies exploiting it, there's a place and certainly a demand from the modern UK workforce for casual work that hospitality organisations cannot afford to ignore. 

And it's not just the younger generation who hospitality leaders need to focus their attention upon. With the pensionable age rising, more older people are looking for work. So, although a number of roles in front-line hospitality are synonymous with younger workers, employers are starting to look at how they can attract older workers for these jobs. 

One, albeit unpopular, option that hospitality leaders are being increasing forced to consider is that of automation. No one wishes to see people replaced with machines, but some industries may have no choice. Touch screen check-in at hotels, online reservation services and even virtual airport bar staff are becoming a reality and could provide some solutions to staff shortages, even if leaders are reluctant to forego the personal touch for its workers.

Time will tell the true impact that leaving the EU will have on the sector and all eyes remain on the government in the coming weeks and months to establish a clear position on free movement going forward. In the meantime, hospitality leaders continue to explore ways in which they can safeguard their businesses as well as an entire industry that accounts for a tenth of the UK's economic wealth. 

For more information about the work that Lightbulb Leadership Solutions has completed in the hospitality sector, drop our team a line today and find out what we can do for your business.