As the hospitality industry grows there is a dearth of qualified candidates for certain departments. Donald Gasper asks what can be done to meet this challenge.

“It’s an exhilarating time to be working in recruitment in the hospitality sector with so many new and exciting hotels and resorts opening in South East Asia,” says Mihai Olteanu, regional director for Southeast Asia at TMS Talent.

The current job market is buoyant for both job seekers and employers, with many great roles and experienced job seekers currently available – the challenge is finding the right fit for both employer and job seeker.

“We are running short of strong, qualified employees for certain departments,” agrees Vincci Chung, senior consultant, HotelsHR Limited.

Employee branding – the new buzz words                                    

The hospitality industry has found new buzz words: Employee branding. “Applicants are sought by putting rather catchy marketing messages about how great companies are and how great it is to work for them,” says René J.M. Schillings, managing director at TOP Hoteliers Executive Search. “An experience is promised, rather than the actual requirements for each job being described.”

Stanley Wong, director of human capital at Hong Kong-based Agon Hotels and Resorts, agrees branding has been an ongoing topic in board rooms and says perhaps the greatest impact on brand discussion has been the shift in focus to recruiting talent with “on-brand” DNA. Finding people with like minds to the company’s ethos provides a stable platform to more easily and more assuredly deliver on a company’s focused initiatives.

Some hotels have moved away from creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are overly formal, recognising that guests prefer staff to just “be themselves”.

This has an impact on recruitment practices. Being a “people person” who enjoys service, may take precedence over knowing the step-by-step processes of routine hotel tasks, says Wong. “After all, the latest in technology can be called upon to assist in a number of functional, specific ways, while the empathy and warmness of quality service cannot be replaced. This is especially the case when something may go awry; a guest would most certainly prefer to speak with a sympathetic human being.”

Is technology the solution?

Schillings argues that technology in fact slows down recruitment instead of speeding it up.

“For the last five years we have seen a worrisome development of too much focus on online procedures to obtain applicants for positions,” he complains “The digitalisation of the recruitment process has made applying for jobs a random game. It has become a Tinder for jobs.”

“We have observed a clear trend that the time required for applicants to land a job has doubled, from 2-3 months to 5-6 months and longer. We hear from our clients also frequently about key positions being open for 5-7 months and longer and the hotel not being able to fill the role fast enough. There isn’t a shortage of vacancies. Nor is there a shortage of applicants. The bottleneck lies in the anonymous digital application processes.”

Many of the larger companies have gone over to a fully digitalised application and candidate database system, where catchy advertising or direct jobs posting on websites feed high volumes of applicants on a constant basis. The massive needs that the industry has are thus supposed to be filled by volume-focused delivery of applicants. For any given vacancy, if posted on a global platform, the number of respondents has increased 10-fold, versus the old ways of making it known there was a vacancy. This leads to a need to shift the applicants of the day quickly, without too much time to look into details. It is not just the unsuitable applicants who aren’t replied to. Many of the good or potentially good applicants aren’t given a personal reply or follow up either.

Is bigger better?

“The main complaint we hear too often from hoteliers keen on a next step in their hospitality career is that they’ve applied for hundreds of jobs online without ever having had a single response.”

Supposedly the larger a hotel chain is, the more opportunities there are to join it, as well as for staff to have a certain guarantee for continued employment, opportunities for promotion and growth, via transfers and other programmes. “However, we see a clear trend that the larger these hotel companies get, the harder it becomes for them to process recruits individually. Whereas a hotel general manager could previously decide on most of the hiring, he now needs to process this through various layers of approval, slowing down the process.”

Recruitment officers would do well to look deeper into candidates’ applications to see if there are brand commonalities with their experiences, Wong says. Hearing their unscripted responses, even about their hobbies, is a way to test compliance with brand positioning. Interview questions tend to be less about the requisite “what were your responsibilities?” and more about “who are you and how do you fit in here?” This also widens the potential candidate pool to those outside the hotel industry.