Workforce Challenges Need Smart Strategies, Partnerships
per·fect storm noun
“a particularly bad or critical state of affairs, arising from a number of negative and unpredictable factors” (i.e.) "the past two years have been a perfect storm for the travel industry" Oxford Languages.
Truth, Google it! Oxford actually used our industry as an example of how to use the phrase “perfect storm.”
With more people becoming vaccinated, many operators felt great relief and were optimistic as customer demand continually, and in some cases monumentally, increased. Meeting this sudden ramp up would have expected challenges, of course, but few could have predicted that the biggest challenge was yet to come. Hiring staff!
Workforce Challenges. Hospitality is not the only industry struggling to hire and, in fact, we were experiencing difficulties pre-pandemic as well. But as one of the most battered by closures due to the pandemic, we are also among the hardest hit by hiring challenges. Few things can hamper economic recovery, or be more frustrating, than being unable to meet customer demand when there is facility capacity, but lack of workers to fulfill the need. While there is not a treasure map of where to find ready to work employees, and/or how to keep them, there are best practices and resources identified that I hope are helpful.
Not One Strategy But Many. In the short term, partners have experienced some success by raising pay, offering hiring and/or length of term bonuses, creating referral programs, and offering housing stipends. Other tactics are proven to also strengthen appeal. These include:
Advertising starting rate and pay raise potential IN your ad. Failure to do so is cited by jobseekers and recruiters as the number one reason for lack of response. One successful employer actually advertised their starting rate on their company vans!
Decreasing amount of time between paychecks. Some operators are even paying daily, many at least weekly.
Emphasizing advancement opportunities and management support for career growth IN your ad. We have lost many veteran associates to other industries that could keep them employed during the pandemic when we could not. Those unfamiliar with our industry often do not understand the rapid career trajectory hospitality offers.
Guaranteeing shifts, even if demand is slower. One lodging operator shared that after analyzing their P&L, they realized that it was less expensive for them to keep seasonal employees on payroll during winter than to go through re-hiring and/or being forced to keep rooms unoccupied due to lack of staff. They planned to use the time to cross-train and focus on quality and service projects they never have time to do in summer, which will likely increase their Tripadvisor ratings for an even higher payback!
Promoting your company’s value system. Lockdown created time for many to reflect about their own ideals and how they want to spend their time. Are you a Certified B-Corp, do you support local philanthropic needs, are your business practices environmentally sustainable, do you hire people who have disabilities, do you pay employees to volunteer a few hours of their time? Recruiters note company culture is increasingly important as a deciding factor. For a good example of how to amplify culture, check out Elephants Deli’s hiring page at Elephantsdeli.com/about/careers.
Telling it like it is. On your hiring page, feature a few two-to-three-minute videos from actual employees. These do not need high production value, in fact, phone-recorded videos can be more credible. Focus on describing what the actual job is responsible for, what they like about working for your company, and even what the challenges are. Keeping it real is essential. Bandon Dunes needed golf course maintenance staff and received support from the Southwest Oregon Workforce Investment Board to create this recruitment video: youtu.be/3SJ_GZ95pvM. Though more highly produced than your company might need, you can see how effective this first-hand narrative approach can be.
Leveraging online training resources. The American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI) offers online training at AHLEI.org/lodging to orient entry-level employees to their new roles before conducting on-site training. This approach can reduce the amount of supervisory training time needed and make the new hire more comfortable, increasing their desire to stay. Courses include front desk representative, kitchen cook, housekeeping attendant, restaurant server, and more. AHLEI and the National Restaurant Association also offer skill-building courses to help enthusiastic employees progress towards supervisory roles, while still working in their current position; visit ServSuccess.com for more information. Remember that your foundation, the Oregon Hospitality Foundation (OHF), also offers two online guest service courses–one which is specific to the pandemic’s service and safety challenges–at OregonGuestService.com.
Getting to know your local WorkSource Oregon agencies who work directly with jobseekers. Funded by your taxes and therefore offering no fee assistance, these teams are dedicated to “…to effectively respond to workforce challenges through high-quality services to individuals and businesses, resulting in job attainment, retention, and advancement.” Do more than just place an ad with the office. Developing a relationship can have a big pay-off with support most hospitality employers do not even realize is available. Visit Worksourceoregon.org/about for more information.
The Big Picture. When I wrote about this idea a few years ago, the strategy seemed like an interesting idea. Now it feels like an essential strategy in order to build a labor-source pipeline such as the healthcare, IT, and construction industry has done. How? Flex our collective economic and hiring impact, and gain attention from local workforce boards.
The purpose of Oregon’s Workforce and Talent Development Board (Oregon.gov/workforceboard) is to “Advance Oregon through meaningful work, training, and education by empowering people and employers.” Its nine regional development boards identify the most economically impactful employers in their local communities and offer tremendous strategic and financial support to create tactics that help meet these employers’ needs. Find your local workforce development board at bit.ly/9-LWDB and see what industries are currently regarded as major sectors. You will find the hospitality industry is regarded key in only one of Oregon’s nine regions thus far.
Until and unless the hospitality industry is recognized for the important economic role it has in the other eight regions, hiring, training, retaining, and advancing employees will continue to be our struggle alone, rather than engaging the expertise and funding support that Oregon’s workforce system offers.
In fact, as a pilot program, OHF, in partnership with the Oregon Coast Visitors Association and with assistance from workforce board leader and ORLA member Zack Poole (Pig-n-Pancake), has built a growing relationship over the past four years with Northwest Oregon Works (NOW). This workforce development board serves Clatsop, Lincoln, Tillamook, Benton, and Columbia counties. Thanks to these efforts and NOW board support, the Leisure and Hospitality Industry has recently been recognized as a major sector, the first region in the state to do so. To understand more about the positive impact of this collaboration, read more at bit.ly/OHFwbpr.
Weathering the Storm. While navigating through current workforce challenges, plotting a course toward an easier route can be feasible. See additional resources and learn more from OHF’s recent webinar, “Accessing Resources to Help Support Your Workforce Needs” at bit.ly/webinar052521.
I welcome your ideas, questions, and comments. Reach me at WPopkin@OregonRLA.org. | Wendy Popkin, Oregon Hospitality Foundation
Wendy Popkin is the Executive Director of the Oregon Hospitality Foundation, a nonprofit 501c3 dedicated to providing educational, training, and philanthropic support to Oregon’s restaurant, lodging, and tourism industry. Wendy is a 35-year career veteran who describes herself as “fanatically enthusiastic about helping others enjoy the same type of fabulous career opportunities I have enjoyed in the hospitality industry.” OregonHospitalityFoundation.org