There is now more competition than ever for talented hospitality professionals with the talent market not growing, despite a boom in the industry in Asia. Emerging destinations are not the only ones with problems, established tourism hubs are feeling the crunch too. But what are the biggest concerns and challenges? Donald Gasper finds out.

The hospitality industry has always been in competition with other industries when attracting talent, but in recent years innovation in attracting and retaining talent has grown to new heights.

With the world brought closer by technology, candidates now have more new opportunities available to them, both at home and abroad, says John Terry, managing director of hospitality jobs recruitment specialist TMS Asia Pacific.

“Finding the best talent for any company is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he adds.

And the biggest challenge is hiring and retaining top staff, especially those who fall into the Millennial demographic.

Millennials aren’t content with doing the same job. They want faster progression along with a clear career path and need to see additional skills they can develop, whether this is done through training or by giving them additional responsibilities.

With more job opportunities available to Millennials, hoteliers need to offer a competitive package and benefits, observes Terry. Their employee offering needs to “entice” this generation.

“Interestingly it is not about money anymore. It is about brand, career progression opportunities, growth and flexibility. Recent reports have shown that what these employees desire the most is work-life balance with flexible working hours,” Terry says.

Work-life balance

Darryl Agon, managing director of both Agon Hotels and Resorts and its subsidiary Agon Hospitality Recruitment, agrees: “The ideals of work-life balance, and non-traditional work hours have become more common place. The lure of working in a posh hotel environment with marble floors and mood lighting has lost some panache as compared to the idea of going to work in casual attire to a workplace more akin to a techie’s playground.”

To be more appealing, at least in attracting this new-age manpower, a social media footprint is essential.

There are also new catchphrases that have come more into vogue, such as ‘MT’ (management trainee) and ‘externships’ (versus internships), with promises of career development and greater exposure to experience respectively.

“But, all that said, the industry will always have allure for those who find hospitality in their DNA and have the will to smile and serve.”

“Talent in the field of hospitality is not easy to find these days, due to the industry boom,” says Vincci Chung, a senior consultant at hospitality executive search firm HotelsHR.

Other than using their own websites, hoteliers are using various electronic platforms to reach out to potential hires who might be interested to explore better opportunities to expand their career path.

In addition, they continue to approach suitable recruits by attending hospitality events and by using referrals and executive search firms – especially for confidential assignments.

“In order to find suitable candidates, we need to sharpen our people skills and communications skills on a regular basis’” Chung notes. “Understanding the markets, the existing teams, the vision of the organisation and the candidates’ expectations are equally important.”

The biggest challenge that Chung finds is loyalty to the company or organisation, “simply because of the imbalance of supply and demand… although we have graduates on a regular basis from the various hospitality programmes, these newcomers may change career after they have experienced the real taste of our industry. Moreover, some of them may prefer to work as long-term part-timers simply because of flexibility, despite the benefits and career path the company provides.”

What the butler saw

Skilled butlers are an example of a resource in scarce supply in the hospitality industry.

“From our 20-year butler training experience, we have learned that hotels often forget the necessity of having a continual training plan,” says Wayne Fitzharris, managing director of The British Butler School.

Few hotels put together assessments to identify and assess the skills and competencies required, he laments.

More experienced butlers are headhunted and leave whilst new ones receive inferior training from fellow butlers. They in turn become the future trainers and dilute the original butler values and standards acquired from the original onset training, he adds.

“It is our view that the world is full of poorly trained butlers who are never tested and assessed. We have found senior butlers to be often lacking in a full understanding of true luxury butler services and standards.

“Don’t get me wrong,” says Fitzharris. “We love travelling the world and delivering world-class butler training but our training is pretty much wasted when hotels don’t allow their training department to put together continuation programmes to follow up and roll out in-house training programmes which are not equal to our own international training.

“The truth is hotels cannot replicate specialist world-class training because they lack in-house trainers who have the experience or the passion to deliver world-class butlers.”