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Can technology help the hospitality sector avert a staffing crisis?

With nearly three million workers and an estimated £130bn a year contribution to the wider economy, the hospitality sector makes a substantial input to employment and growth across the UK.

The UK’s hospitality sector serves as a cornerstone of the British economy - with nearly three million workers and an estimated £130bn a year contribution to the wider economy, the sector makes a substantial input to employment and growth across the UK.

A key indicator of the industry’s performance is London, which has been, and remains, one of Europe’s largest hospitality markets. The city's wealth of restaurants, hotels and events fuel its cultural offerings, but also draws some of the world’s best hospitality workers to work in the city. Many within the industry often look to London for inspiration, ideas and innovation - but this is currently under threat.

Who will staff the restaurants and bars?

With Brexit looming, and the full implication of Government policy still unknown, short staffing is quickly becoming an unsettling likelihood for establishments across the hospitality sector. In fact, tourism minister Michael Ellis recently addressed the fact that the hospitality sector will be hit the hardest in the event of Britain leaving the EU, with expectations that the loss of free movement will create a deficit of more than a million workers by 2029 (KPMG).

With such a fluid and varied market, the hospitality sector has always struggled with staff retention and shortages, but the potential fallout from the loss of European hospitality professionals arriving to the UK has the potential to be devastating. Recent estimates suggest that 75% of all waiting staff in the UK are citizens from other European countries.

Could technology offer the solution?

Tech innovation has already begun to revolutionise hiring processes across multiple industries, and this should be put to use within the hospitality sector. Examples range from AI solutions that can instantly sift through large numbers of applicants, to on-demand services that match businesses to their ideal hires via both data analytics and human insight. The common aim is to ensure that businesses hire quickly and successfully - with the result being a diverse, yet complementary, team.

However, the nature of the hospitality industry means that opportunities for productivity gains and automation are limited. For a sector often delivering high-quality face-to-face service, meeting potential hires or freelancers in person is crucial to ensure they display exceptional human empathy, among other core skills. Meeting candidates reduces the chance of defined criteria preventing a potentially brilliant hire, as performance in person can vary massively from written or recorded responses online.

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Given the need for that face-to-face vetting in the hospitality industry, technology will have the greatest impact through augmentation and assisting the process, rather than full-blown automation of the recruitment pipeline. Restaurants and bars are increasingly using platforms that take care of the match-making and administrative parts of the process. By reducing time spent searching for staff, vetting them and organising payment, establishments can focus on providing great service, safe in the knowledge that they can access a pool of hospitality freelancers during busy periods or when left under-staffed.  

Flexible working

Transition to increased productivity and adoption of technology solutions will no doubt take time for the hospitality sector. Rather than hiring permanently, a sector-wide acceptance of flexible working would allow businesses to respond to staffing pressures by bringing in professional hospitality freelancers as required.

An increased pool of freelancers working in a number of different establishments would not only provide the flexible solution that freelancers and businesses seek, but also improve the sharing of knowledge and expertise across the sector. By providing opportunities to work in multiple establishments, especially in urban areas such as London, the variety of work and ability to work at some of the world’s top restaurants may retain top hospitality talent.

With Brexit definitely threatening the strength of the three million-strong hospitality workforce in the UK, the supply of experienced staff will remain relatively stable within London for the time being, as the city’s reputation as a quality hospitality, events and catering destination is upheld. What will change soon though, is that experienced professionals will find themselves in higher demand, and will have many more opportunities and options in terms of their next career steps. They will have to choose from better working conditions, better work-life balance and flexibility - and this is where flexible working platforms can bridge the gap between the need of establishments and the desire for more flexible working across the sector – especially for those seeking short-term but effective experience with some of the city’s most exciting establishments.

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