In January, the AHLA Foundation launched an ad campaign to help the hospitality industry fill tens of thousands of open jobs across the country. The foundation specifically called out the fact that this would be a multi-year effort, an indication of just how heavy a toll the pandemic and the “Great Resignation” has had on the industry. In fact, the AHLA Foundation said that during 2020 and 2021, the hospitality industry lost approximately 10 years’ worth of job growth and that hotels are expected to end 2022 down 166,000 workers.
But there is hope.
The hospitality industry has already surmounted numerous other obstacles, due to the pandemic and its long-lasting effects, and it will find a way to overcome this problem as well. But to do so, the industry must be willing to make some significant changes in the way staff members are recruited, trained and treated on the job.
“Smart hoteliers know that the secret weapon in recruitment is technology,” says Laura Calin, VP, Strategy and Solutions Management at Oracle Hospitality. “AI, machine learning and automation will be critical in improving employee’s work life and morale which are major concerns and considerations for employees.”
When it comes to recruiting, time is of the essence.
“The post-pandemic labor recruitment process needs to be much faster and frictionless for both the applicant and the hiring manager,” says Kristina Gansser, VP of Product, Fourth. “If the process is too long, complex or overly burdensome, the applicant will drop and find a competitor with a faster, less complex process. The goal is to reduce the time-to-hire by a minimum of 50 percent and as high as 90 percent when compared to pre-pandemic levels.”
To do this, hoteliers will need to look to automation technologies for help.
“Automation can drive efficiencies in back-office tasks to streamline cumbersome processes and relieve busy employees of excess paperwork,” says Brad Beumer, Customer Experience and Contact Center Automation Lead, UiPath.
Consider the benefits of an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) with automation technologies.
“For hotel hiring managers, the ATS [can reduce] the administrative burden by using automation technology to filter preferable candidates and automatically schedule and interview or even automatically offer a job based on a candidate’s response to pre-determined questions,” Gansser says.
For prospective employees, the ATS needs to offer a mobile-first design that allows job applicants to text-to-apply or communicate via SMS messaging.
Hoteliers can use SMS messages to keep prospective employees engaged via “meaningful interactions that also showcase the company’s culture,” says Calvin Sun, Senior Director of Compensation, Benefits & Talent Analytics, Paylocity. “Texting can also appeal to younger candidates who may be new to the labor force.”
“Also, consider removing the requirement that job applicants register and create a username and upload a resume,” Gansser adds. “Instead, offer an option where a candidate can simply submit a job profile via the click of a single button. From a technology perspective, the ATS is the most important tool you have to win the battle for talent in this labor market.”
Not only does automating the recruitment process get more new employees working faster, but it also saves money. Research from Deloitte found the average annual cost savings from using software to automate applicant tracking and recruiting is more than $18,000.
In the near future, recruitment of staff members could be completely streamlined and mainly automated so that HR personnel can focus more on onboarding and mentoring new employees and less on paperwork, Beumer adds. For example, during the interview, the AI assistant could take notes, help the manager remain in compliance and even note the sentiment of the candidate. For the post-interview, the AI assistant could enter the details of the interview into the recruitment system and note the manager’s recommendations.
Offer Better Benefits
The pandemic has caused what many are calling a “great awakening” among hourly employees. They are re-evaluating what’s important to them and what they should expect from employers. Now as they navigate the new economy and search for a new job, they’re demanding the same benefits and opportunities traditionally reserved for white-collar office jobs: better pay, better benefits, career advancement opportunities and more scheduling flexibility. Companies in other industries are hearing them loud and clear and giving them what they want.
Consider this: Walmart’s average hourly compensation is $19, Target’s starting pay is $15 across the nation and will go as high as $24 per hour in the most competitive markets, and Amazon warehouse employees will have an average starting wage of $18 per hour with some locations paying as much as $22.50. These same companies offer additional benefits including health, dental, vision, 401(k) with company match, college tuition and book reimbursement, free mental health counseling, discounts on gym memberships, and paid parental leave (16 weeks for birth moms for Walmart, 20 weeks for Amazon).
How does the hospitality industry rate?
“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the average hourly earnings for non-supervisory leisure and hospitality employees have risen 19.24 percent between March 2020 and March 2022,” says Sid Upadhyay, co-founder and president, WizeHire. “Despite this increase, hospitality continues to have the highest quit rate and the lowest pay of any sector, averaging $515/week or $27K/year – less than half of the average for all private workers.”
While hoteliers may need to give serious thought to raising hourly wages, there are other things a company can do to attract talent. For example, a vast number of hourly workers live paycheck to paycheck. Hoteliers could differentiate themselves from other companies by offering workers the chance to opt into same day pay apps. This allows workers to access earned wages ahead of their scheduled payday via simple mobile app integrated with the company’s payroll system. When payday hits, the wages an employee has used ahead of time are automatically deducted from the paycheck.
“On‑demand pay is poised to become a competitive advantage, and soon, a necessity to keep pace with the future of work,” notes John Orr, Sr. Vice President Retail at Ceridian. “Providing early access to workers’ earned wages, as part of a broader financial wellness strategy, is an example of both meeting the expectations of the modern workforce while also helping to bridge their critical needs. It demonstrates the commitment a company has to its culture and reinforces an employer’s competitive differentiators in offering engagement and work-life capabilities like no other.”
“Earned wage access or on-demand pay is a technology solution that has turned out to be a real difference-maker,” she notes. “When employees have access to the pay they’ve already earned on any particular day rather than having to wait until the next pay cycle, it empowers them with the financial control they need to pay bills or other financial obligations. This also removes the need to utilize predatory payday loan services that charge exorbitant loan fees that ultimately end up sinking them further into debt and financial despair. Finally, the unbanked or underbanked employees have a chance to get a bank account and debit card so they can have access to all the typical banking services that come with a bank account, and they can use their debit card just like anyone else can to pay for bills, groceries, entertainment or whatever else they choose.”
Hoteliers could also offer unique incentives such as contests to pay off college tuition/student loan debts or offer commission opportunities which both motivate staff members while driving performance, Calin adds.
But money isn’t the only benefit that matters to potential staff members.
“According to Ceridian’s 2022 Pulse of Talent Report, winning the talent war takes more than pay,” says Orr. “Organizations that succeed in attracting and retaining talent will be those who understand where they can add value to employee’s lives. While higher pay will always appeal to candidates, our report showed a clear need for great leadership, solutions to widespread employee burnout, and a focus on equipping workers for the future.” One example of this: 59 percent of hourly employees cited scheduling issues as a reason to quit their job, other than pay. For hoteliers, this could mean taking a different approach to scheduling.
“Rather than top-down approaches where management dictates where and when its people work, perhaps now is the time to let employees decide for themselves,” says Michael Spataro, Chief Delivery Officer of Legion. “The technology to enable such flexibility is out there. Simple, intuitive smartphone apps can enable workers to indicate scheduling preferences, initiate swaps, request time off, see predicted pay, plus much more. The approach fosters engagement and saves employers valuable administrative time.”
Plus, hotels with multiple locations could offer workers even greater flexibility by enabling them to work across a variety of locations, Spataro adds. This could be especially beneficial to a company who has an employee that is visiting family or going on vacation in another city but is still interested in picking up some shifts. Plus, it helps management better fill coverage gaps and accommodate on-demand workers.
And don’t forget the importance of creating career development programs for new employees.
“All employees want a job where they can learn and grow,” Calin says. “Empowering your team through providing more career development opportunities is a perfect incentive for hotel staff. From providing them with on-demand virtual training to helping them learn how to best utilize and maintain property management systems to easy-to-use digital courses to enhance their skills, just letting your staff know you’re committed to their career progression and advancement is a top benefit and incentive in itself.”
But for employees to advance within career development programs, hoteliers will need to invest in training technologies.
Hilton Hotels offers virtual training programs to help employees returning from parental leave get up to speed more quickly and it’s partnered with Guild Education to offer programs for continuous learning to help employees advance their long-term careers within the company, says Emily Weiss, Global Travel Industry Sector Lead for Accenture. Meanwhile, Bank of America is using VR simulations in more than 4,000 locations to train staff in a wide range of skills, including client interactions.
“We’re also seeing interesting partnerships in this space,” says Dyllis Hesse, Senior Managing Director at Accenture. “For example, FutureofU: Skills. Jobs. Growth. is bringing together a group of businesses to provide training in key future skills, like digital, cloud and data science, which helps women and others return to work after having children.”
And don’t forget about the possibilities for training that accompany the metaverse.
“Some businesses are already exploring how to use mixed-reality experiences to transform corporate training and help employees learn in a more accessible, more effective, and more enjoyable way,” Hesse adds. “The above examples show how the flexibility and accessibility that tech enables can enhance day-to-day working experiences, aid recruitment, and support retention. This is all the more important as the industry looks to rebound from the pandemic and capitalize on the pent-up demand for travel and hospitality services that’s undoubtedly out there.”