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Industry warned as staffing crisis looms

November 1st, 2017 | by LCN Editor
Industry warned as staffing crisis looms
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The NI Hotels Federation warned this month that there is now “real concern” around the availability of skilled labour as the hotels sector here continues to expand at unprecedented rates.

The Federation delivered the most up-to-date assessment of the sector across Northern Ireland when it unveiled its report, ‘Hotel Expansions in Northern Ireland – an era of opportunity” at this year’s Hospitality Exchange trade event in the middle of October.

That document included a suggestion that an additional 2000 jobs will be created by current expansion plans. If existing requirements are taken into consideration, then around 4,400 new employees will be required by the sector in 2020, says the report.

It’s widely accepted that every new hotel room requires one new employee but speaking to LCN this month, the Federation’s chief executive, Janice Gault, conceded that “people remain the biggest challenge for the sector”.

Calling for the proposals in the recent Tourism Skills Action plan to be implemented “as a matter of urgency”, she added:

“The NIHF feels that it’s imperative for the sector to work with government and education to improve the industry’s image and attract more people into the sector.”

One hotel that has already acted to mitigate the looming crisis over recruitment is Galgorm Resort & Spa near Ballymena, where a new in-house training scheme is set to get underway next year. In partnership with the Northern Regional College, the Galgorm School of Excellence will take on 36 school-leavers every year and train them for a career in hospitality.

“We are now an industry that is struggling to find new recruits, there is currently a problem and this can only get worse,” conceded Galgorm’s general manager, Colin Johnston. “This industry has been under pressure like this for some time, growth has definitely been increasing and now, with Brexit, nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

Colin said that he felt there was a requirement for more public/private training partnerships such as the School of Excellence:

“We don’t believe that by bringing on 36 school-leavers every year, we’re going to change things, it might meet our requirements for staff but it won’t make a dent in the industry’s needs,” he added. “There needs to be a seismic change in the thinking around hospitality as a career of choice and the industry needs to be out there selling that.”

Another hotel group concerned about the looming crisis over staff is Dalata. It will open its new 237-room Maldron Belfast City hotel next March, but has now teamed up with Hastings Hotels and Belfast City Council to launch the Hotel Employment Agency. That initiative aims to recruit 200 new staff for the hotels.

Mike Gatt, former general manager of the Maldron in Derry has now moved to supervise the opening of the Maldron Belfast City, and he feels the new Academy is the right approach to the difficulties the industry is experiencing:

“The Academy kicks-off in about two months’ time and we are confident that it will have gained good traction by 2020,” he added. “This isn’t going to be a one-off, it’s a series that we hope the council and Tourism NI can get behind and help it evolve into something that will produce skilled employees for hospitality for years to come.

“We would still be concerned tough, clearly there is still a lot of demand for chefs and skilled hospitality staff, so there will be a need for this to be addressed going forward.”

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