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The Skills Gap in the Hospitality Industry

One of the biggest challenges facing the hospitality industry is a skills shortage, affecting all corners of the labor market. Here's how that affects the next generation of hospitality students.

What the hospitality skills gap means for the future of hospitality jobs 

Labor is the biggest single cost for hospitality institutions, yet many hotel and tourism industry employers are facing a second squeeze in the form of an industry-wide shortage of qualified employees. Travel and tourism may be up as global levels of wealth increase, but there are fewer qualified hospitality workers across the entire industry - from casinos and cruise ships to restaurants and hotels.

So what skills are potential employees missing and what is the takeaway for hospitality students?

Causes for Hospitality Industry Labor Shortage

Several different factors converge to create a labor shortage in the hospitality industry.

One is wages, where employees in roles that traditionally pay low or have tipped wages, such as the restaurant segment of the industry, tend to leave jobs at higher rates than employees in other sectors, because wages are low.

Another is technology: Hotel employees are increasingly expected to use technology, and some workers (including older workers and those who have less familiarity with technology due to income barriers) are pushed out. 

Generational factors contribute too, as older employees who have decades' worth of experience in hospitality skills near retirement age.

Learn more: The future is Affective Hospitality : Discover all the hospitality skills that will be needed in the future.

Some hotels are turning to technology to fill the gap. Hotel culinary teams have been especially hard-hit by the skilled labor gap, so many are turning to cooking technologies that increase efficiency, such as pre-portioned, vacuum-sealed menu items. Others are scaling down the complexity or burdening existing team members with extra duties– tasking a prep cook to make bread instead of hiring a baker, for instance.

While these solutions have enabled industry players to keep up despite the labor gap, they are essentially stopgap measures. Technology can replace some amount of human labor, and workers can take on some amount of additional duties, but everything has its limit.

The best solution is to equip a new generation of workers with the appropriate skills.

Traditionally there has been a high turnover rate in hospitality. The industry poses demands that few others do. Consider that employees may work nights and weekends, limiting free time to spend with family or friends, and are expected to handle difficult customers and solve problems with grace. Employees who don't devote time to self-care may burn out and decide to leave the field for something easier.

Realistic expectations will take young hospitality workers far. Movies can make the industry seem glamorous, while downplaying the mundane side of working in hospitality. No matter the work environment, the main priority is to satisfy customers, and that means doing whatever it takes even when the customer has different expectations or comes from a different culture and may not share your values. If that's difficult for you, then you will struggle to rise through the ranks in hospitality. On the other hand, employees who take a service orientation and approach every interaction with the intention of doing what they can to please the guest will go far.

So what skills do candidates need to acquire to work in hospitality?

Soft Skills Hospitality Graduates Need to Know

Soft skills are the skills that aren't necessary taught in school but are part of good citizenship: Communication, leadership, critical thinking, organization, follow through, cultural competency, flexibility, and customer service, just to name a few. These skills are missing in hospitality.

The guest comes first in hospitality. It's obvious, but have you thought about what it really means in terms of how you interact with guests?

Customer service skills will serve you time and again, as will creative thinking and flexibility. For young people today, who often interact with one another via technological device, customer service requires a necessary reorientation to interacting with people, either face to face or over the phone.

Multitasking and maintaining a positive attitude are of critical importance for hospitality workers, who often work long shifts and must be prepared to jump in and lend a hand wherever it's needed. Workers who rise to the challenge without displaying negativity are more likely to be promoted, so there is something in it for you if you master these skills.

Employees who are organized are better able to multitask without losing track of critical tasks. This is a skill that is easy to learn; checklists, for instance, offer a way to keep important tasks top-of-mind, so that no matter what comes up on a shift, you meet your obligations (and impress your manager).

Worldwide the growing skills gap could cost the economy some 14 million jobs, plus $610 billion in loss of GDP. It is in everyone's best interest that the hospitality skills gap be surmounted, and investing in education of the next generation of hospitality employees is among the best ways to fill the gap.

As employers are focusing on soft skills over hard skills, which can be taught on the job, those candidates who will rise to the top of the pile are those who have demonstrated experience in soft skills. The candidate to get interviews will be those who point to soft skills on their resume and exhibit their skills during an in-person or phone interviews.

The best candidates will always respond well even when interviews take unexpected turns, for example incorporating role play or impromptu assignments designed to test candidates' emotional intelligence and mastery of interpersonal soft skills.

Did you know? 80% of employers say soft skills are increasingly important to  company success Learn More