Build inclusive hiring practices in hospitality for the right business reasons
Today, Hotel Management graduates are looking for options in adjacent industries like e-commerce, retail, BPOs etc and/or pursuing higher education
Having been an Operations head for two decades, and now as the WICCI – National Vice Chair for Hospitality & Tourism engaging with the C-suites of Hospitality, it has given me a courtside seat to view talent development from a different and renewed perspective. Both when running existing hotels and resorts and when handling pre-openings for hotel brands, and now as a hospitality consultant, I’ve hired many hundreds of people and one of my biggest challenges has been recruiting and retaining unconventional talent, without really ‘toppling the apple cart’. However, I do believe that the onus is on us as senior operations and hiring managers to look even more closely at how to attract and engage a new-breed of this non-traditional candidate, who might take our organisation to new heights.
Who is a non-traditional hire?
There is no real definition. But in my opinion a working definition could be someone that as employers we would typically exclude or overlook when looking to fill an open position. These individuals may also be considered non-traditional, alternative or unconventional talent, since they lack the necessary occupational requirements, educational levels or work experience to get into hospitality jobs.
I’m sure the first thought goes to the unskilled intern under our apprenticeship programs. However, expanding the definition, a non-traditional employee would also include workers above a certain age, persons with disabilities, mothers returning after long breaks, military veterans, LGBTQ and of course the under-privileged school / college dropout and marginalised youth, that usually joins us through a skill development program.
With the Hospitality job market no more getting flooded with traditional candidates, should our ideal candidate now look much different? We’ve always used traditional approach to hiring in our industry and yet our talent problem has never been more severe. Most hotels are busy poaching from one another – at this point why not try increasing the talent pool and groom new diverse talent? Why not open the doors for more people to apply; people who may lack the typical qualifications, but still have the attitude to learn the necessary skills and the drive to perform successfully. Maybe it’s time to turn to non-traditional candidates to keep businesses afloat?
It’s not about making an exception and hiring one great candidate despite not having relevant work experience. It’s about proactively looking to hire people who come from various socio-economic and academic backgrounds and have a hiring strategy for them.
How hiring non-traditional candidates helps?
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) : A buzz word in all corporates across industries. However, what does it really mean in Hospitality. Have we limited diversity to merely gender? Creating a safe, inclusive and equal workplace starts with hiring. Have we considered what a non-traditional candidate, could bring to the table? Multiple studies show that D&I in the workplace brings business and financial gains. At the same time, there’s a moral aspect to building diverse teams. Diversity is still a noble cause, but no more a nice-thing to do. Diversity is a choice - that we must make!
There is no better case study in our industry than the Lemon Tree hotels, when it comes to Diversity & Inclusion. A cornerstone of Lemon Tree’s success has been its Inclusion Program, which focuses on recruiting, training, and hiring people with physical and mental disabilities (PWDs) to work alongside non-disabled staff throughout various areas of hotel operations – from housekeeping to hotel reception.
Its Inclusion-based Human Resources Strategy, today, employs nearly 20 percent of such “opportunity-deprived individuals,” of Lemon Tree’s 5,000-strong workforce, and the company aims to increase this number to 45 percent by 2025. Among the groups targeted for employment are individuals with speech, hearing, and vision impairments, orthopaedic disabilities (i.e., amputees), and intellectual challenges such as autism and Down syndrome. In recent years, Lemon Tree has expanded its outreach to individuals from economically and socially marginalised sectors of society, including orphans raised in institutions and victims of acid attacks.
As, the Hotel Proposed Supply is increasing and expected to touch the 2 lacs room mark in the organised segment by 2026-27, the gap in talent is visibly widening. As per 2022 data, there was only 40% uptake of seats in the best IHMs of the country. IHMs faced the worst crisis in its history.
Rampant layoffs during the pandemic, coupled with increased work burden, work-life balance only on paper, long hours and lack of market parity in pay, has seen hospitality students shift to industries like ecommerce, retail, real estate, consulting and health care. Situation is more dire than we think, as the total workforce requirement of the industry rests at over 18 lakh in 2022, with more than 21 per cent of jobs posted for entry-level positions, according to a study published by the National Skill Development Corporation of India.
Thus, giving opportunity to non-traditional candidates, especially those from non-Hotel Management backgrounds, should not be seen as being done at the cost of an educated Hotel Management (HM) graduate, who has made enough investments to build his career. The gap between demand and supply necessitates a business case for co-existence of both at the entry levels. Infact, it is no hidden fact that a HM student will eventually realise their investments in education, by having a better and faster career growth.
Wouldn’t it make better business sense to then invest in non-traditional candidates, looking at our industry for a career? rather than being reliant on vendors who send (untrained) workers for the day with no guarantee that they would return to work the next day.
Conclusions & Recommendations:
This article is a call to key stakeholders (industry and education) in the search for future talent in the hospitality industry to address and review the industry workplace hiring practices and the workplace environment to tackle this massive human resource challenge.
Hotels need to take a step back, challenge the established practice of hiring graduates and taught Hotel Management students, and develop a new diverse workforce that’s motivated and ready to take on the corporate world.
Disillusionment with the Industry
Changing demographics and lifestyle changes of millennials no more guarantees they will take a linear career path (a four-year degree from a good Hotel management college and then climb the ladder). A linear career path is in fact outdated. Someone who frequently changes jobs might leave your company, too, soon after you’ve hired them. If you come often across these scenarios, you need to examine the problem at its root; it’s not the candidate, but rather, the hiring process. Our industry’s hiring process need a fresh design and approach.
Two decades back, Graduates and Management Trainees from Hotel Management colleges joined the Hotel Industry, owing to limited brands of hotels in India, in turn limited opportunities, as suggested by Fig.2 above. There was availability of unskilled labor or casuals for the labor-intensive work too. However, the scenario has dramatically changed as times are changing. Once upon a time, the hotel industry was a good option amongst all the available options for casual workforce; amongst others perks, that they enjoyed like free / complimentary food, uniforms etc.
Today, Hotel Management graduates are looking for options in adjacent industries like e-commerce, retail, BPOs etc and/or pursuing higher education, and the less skilled manpower is leaning towards internet economy and gig works with Swiggy, Zomato, Amazons of the world. As seen in Fig.3 above. This is resulting into reduced supply of trained manpower at entry level for hospitality industry.
After investing heavily in their education, the majority of graduates aspire to start their careers at a supervisory or management level. However, only 10 per cent of the best of students are offered management trainees across hotel companies.
Infact there are growing studies that suggest that the current talent pipelines, upon which hospitality substantially has been depending, may not be fit for purpose, and that the wider workplace culture within hospitality is not compatible with the attraction of the best into the industry.
It is for these very reasons; we need to look towards skilled youth coming from Quality Skill Certification programs to step-up to fill this conspicuous manpower gap. They are also the very people likely to help create a sustainable workforce pool, if they are shown, and provided with, the opportunities for growth.
Educate and Create awareness
Once we have taken steps to create diversity in our business and establish a clear company culture, there is still work to be done. We will need to be proactive about managing our diverse workforce. Here are some steps we can take to continue to manage diversity: Educate the leadership, provide diversity training to employees, create a council to oversee inclusion, find ways to recognise and celebrate diversity, host more effective meetings to garner employee feedback.
Adjusting to a corporate environment can be a culture shock for many underprivileged youth or LGBTQ or victims of acid attacks or those with disabilities; thus, how hotels treat and care for them during their on-the-job training makes all the difference. WICCI Hospitality’s experience suggests that weekly engagement by the executive committee, senior leadership, and one-on-one with the general manager at regular intervals of the training program would help create a bond and win their loyalty for a long-term with the company. With proper guidance, they can move away from the path of an unskilled laborer to a skilled professional. It’s up to us to make sure candidates will be a good fit for our company, but more importantly, we should be thinking how we can use this person’s specific skill set and experience to make our company better.
From unemployable to a corporate professional shouldn’t be just ‘A Cinderella Story’ - It can be an everyday occurrence, if we only give it a chance! Let’s find a way to harness the amazing energy and talent of such diverse people for the benefit of our organisations. It may be more necessary now than ever.
But even if we are still skeptical about the business benefits of diversity, it should be clear from reading this article that embracing a culture of inclusion will not only improve our ability to recruit from a broader talent pool, thus addressing the talent crunch, but increasing our company’s diversity, will also create some tangible ROI across all aspects of our company.
Around The World