Will Hospitality Get Its Talent Back When The Pandemic Is Over?
What People Thing About Leaving The Industry And Making A Career Switch.
By Silvia Kirkland Zese, Hotel Business and Rooms Division Professional
If you have never been a writer like me, and all of a sudden you have to improvise yourself one, you start thinking about what style you should use, who you should target, and most importantly what your approach should be.
When I started working on the blog and writing, the main goal I set for myself was to always maintain a positive approach, and even when talking about difficult topics or about things that are not going so well, I wanted to always try and find a way to turn it around and bring up a positive message. In other words, the silver lining is my goal.
This is particularly hard when you try and write in 2020, when most of the discussions we are having are surrounded by a negative connotation and unfortunately multiple things are not going well.
Something I have been thinking about lately - that worries me on one side, and that makes me curious on the other - has to do with how our industry will recover in terms of workforce. The fact is that myself and many colleagues in hospitality are now faced with a heavy reality and we have reached the point when we have to ask ourselves the toughest questions of all: "Is it time to leave the industry and make a career switch?".
Some of us have been considering this for some time now and are in front of new opportunities, so we need to make a choice. Most of us unfortunately don't have a choice. We need to work and bring home some income, and if our industry offers no chances at the moment, then we have no choice but to look elsewhere.
We know this is happening and we have all come to accept it. However, what worries me now is this question: when the pandemic is over, and hospitality has recovered from all this, will people come back to it, or will they stay where they are?
Restaurants, hotels, airlines and all service companies are forced to lay people off daily, and are therefore giving up a lot of talent. But when they will be ready to rehire and bring them back, will that talent be ready as well to return, or will it be lost to other businesses?
Consider this: hospitality talents are some of the most compassionate, charismatic and flexible people you can find. We know service and experiences better than anyone else, so we will be able to please customers in whichever industry we will end up. We know and value people above all, so we will be warm and humane leaders wherever we end up. We work under a huge amount of pressure and a constant fast pace, and we have to be extremely flexible to succeed at our job, so we will be strong and we will easily adapt to any new challenge.
We will most likely be successful in other industries because of the skills we have learnt in hospitality.
On the other end the reality is that hospitality staff is unfortunately underpaid compared to other industries. So when the workforce will be exposed to a higher pay, a better schedule, and a more regular lifestyle, will it be willing to give that up and come back?
Even in a situation where companies have no choice and they are doing the only thing they can do, should they keep this aspect into consideration and find a way to guarantee their return? Should they worry about losing that talent forever? Should they be proactive and prepared on how to regain them?
I have asked the question to my friends and colleagues in the hotel business, because we are the talents that might or might not come back, and I am interested in knowing what their thoughts and plans are.
I asked two questions:
- "How is the pandemic making you think about leaving hospitality and switching industry?"
- "If you are considering a switch, would that be temporary or could it be permanent?"
I am quoting some of their answers here below - and respecting the privacy of those who prefer to stay anonymous.
Caroline - Room Division Manager - in the industry for 17 years
"I am not really thinking about leaving (yet) since hospitality is really the industry which I love the most and at the moment switching is not a must for me (again, not yet). If I was to make a change it would be only temporary, as I said I love this job and I believe things will pick up again when this is all over."
Former colleague - Sales Manager - in the industry for 12 years, says:
"The pandemic has created a very uncertain future for us and I don't know when the situation will be back to normal. Of course this triggers me to look for opportunities outside of hospitality, but I'm also doubting if right now it's a good time to switch as a lot of industries are affected. Of course I would consider a job opportunity in another industry if an employer provides a growth opportunity. If I was to make a switch I would definitely give it a full chance and adjust my career goals. Unless I am unhappy in the new role and business, I would stay. But if that was the case I would most likely move back to hotels. At this stage I am not thinking about a permanent switch as I am quite comfortable and protected in my role and company."
Chris - Director of Sales & Marketing - in the industry for over 30 years - says:
"I have all the confidence that the industry will recover. I think it's going to be slower and that it will take longer to get back to the great numbers of 2019, then it took after the 2008/2009 dip. I see continuous consolidation in the business, and a consistent trend of fewer people doing more work and wearing more hats.
I have no plans to leave the industry, in my current DOSM role at an independent boutique hotel, I think I will be working harder than ever to build and maintain relationships to differentiate our hotel and restaurant, fill seats and rooms and make sure our guests really feel the love. This won't be easy until our city moves into phase 3, until a workable vaccine is in circulation, and people are more comfortable around strangers once again."
Silvia - Spa Manager - in the industry for 13 years - says:
"Let's start by saying that the pandemic has made me rethink and reconsider everything. So yes, the idea of leaving the industry has crossed my mind. However, I feel that even if I give it my best, I am not excited about jobs that are not in hospitality. I also feel like I am not being excited during the interview process for the same reason, as it's obvious that my real passion is not there."
Friend - former F&B Director - in the industry for 15 years, says:
"Pivoting during these times is crucial to one's success. A lot of what we've learned by working in hotels can be applied to a multitude of different industries due to the empathetic nature of our job and to our ability to handle stressful situations. If a job requires dealing with people in any shape or form - hotel people are naturally able to excel in those roles.
Personally I do not see myself staying away from hospitality, however I have come to realize that when looking for a position I will need to broaden my search and think of how I can add value to an organization or a brand with my existing knowledge and experience, and this may be outside of my comfort zone.
I have spent the last 10-12 years going from a restaurant server to a hotel executive, I feel I will manage to do the same in another capacity. But will my work environment be upbeat, fun and filled with the joys that come from engaging with guests and hospitality colleagues?
The biggest fear is of an unknown model of work, but if I enjoy it - will I come back to hotels?
There is no answer to that question, however I know many people who left hotels to pursue a different path; many ended up liking their new careers and did not come back. Same for those who left other jobs and ended up finding happiness working in hotels.
Consistency can lead to a dull life. Unless we try and pivot we will never know, it may not be what we know best, but it will be a unique and different experience.
And if you fail, you can always think of 2020 as a year of interesting experiences and go back to your comfort zone. No one will judge you for your actions. Hospitality does not judge people for their background, choices and lifestyle. If you work hard and show your added value, you will be accepted back with open arms."
Ilka - former Sales Manager - in the industry for 28 years, says:
"In the near term it feels like there is not much of a choice but to seek employment outside of hospitality. I've spent years building relationships and a reputation as a trusted partner and advisor for my customers and I don't want all that work to be lost. I would certainly consider returning at the right time and for the right opportunity. It will be interesting to see how everything continues to morph in order to meet the current restrictions, while finding new and innovative means to meet and exceed clients expectations under the new normal."
Ryan - former Sales Manager and F&B operations manager - in the industry for 15 years.
"Yes, the pandemic is making me consider leaving the industry, or if anything getting into a hospitality support industry. With new opportunities I can't be sure that the switch would be permanent. In an ideal world I would return, but if a position allows me to learn new skills within an industry I enjoy then yes, the switch could be permanent. Hospitality has taught me many skills that can be utilized in many other industries so if a change is positive then it may be permanent, if not I would look into returning to hospitality in the future."
What about me?
Well, at the moment I am waiting for my residency paperwork to be processed. In the meantime I'm obviously deeply thinking about what to do when I will be able to work again. I have to be completely honest and admit that, even though it might not be very smart thinking, the thought of leaving the hotel business has not crossed my mind, at least not yet. Is it foolish? Perhaps it is, but for better or for worse, I simply haven't given up on it.
When I think about applying again - when I finally will be able to, I can't think about anything but roles in hotels. I strongly feel and hope that the industry will recover sooner than later. If the circumstances don't improve in the short term, I will have to look for something else because I need to work. And if that will be the case, it will for sure be temporary, and I will be anxiously waiting for the time to come back.
I really am a loyal and passionate hotelier, I love my job and my industry and I am a huge advocate for it, I miss it deeply and I just can't wait to return.
There seem to be many thoughts going through people's minds right now, but there are also some consistencies with that.
People who were already considering a switch before the pandemic (and therefore for unrelated reasons) will hopefully find a job elsewhere, and will most likely not return; for them the pandemic has just been the necessary push they needed to finally make the move.
People who were and are unsure seem to be considering anything at the moment simply because they have to work and they don't have a choice, some will enjoy the benefits of their new job, and will make the switch permanent; some will eventually miss hospitality and will return anyway.
Many are not going very far: by looking at jobs not in our industry - but related to it - they can allow themselves to apply the skills and knowledge they already have without making a drastic change.
Finally, people who still feel strong about the industry, might or might not make a switch depending on their personal situation, but if they do, no doubt it will be temporary. Those are people like me who are looking forward to returning as soon as possible and who can't devote themselves to anything but hospitality.
The bottom line is that the industry will lose some percentage of its workforce, big or small will depend on many circumstances, but for sure some talent will be lost.
Is this necessarily a negative factor? At first sight it sounds like it, but let's look at it from a different perspective: we know there are people in hospitality who would be better suited for - and much happier in - a different industry, they just haven't had the necessary push yet. We know there are people in hospitality who are just not charismatic and people oriented enough to succeed in it. We know there are people in hospitality who are not there for the passion, but just for the paycheck.
All those are the people who will most likely leave for good, so what will we be left with? With those who are passionate, loyal and well suited for the industry.
Maybe we will lose in numbers, but we will gain in talent.
Maybe when we are ready to start again, we will have a smaller pool to hire from, but we will have a higher level of loyalty, devotion, and enthusiasm.
So maybe there is a silver lining after all: that the pandemic is going to leave us with the workforce that really belongs to hospitality.