This week I took part at a gathering of the St Julian Scholars to moderate a panel discussion entitled “Low pay – the elephant in the room” which tackled the thorny subject of attracting the best and brightest people into our industry in the face of a widely held perception that working in a hotel or restaurant involves low pay and unsociable hours.
We learned that the National Minimum Wage is paid to entry level staff in lots of industries, especially retail, and that it could be financially crippling for many independent hoteliers to increase wages by more than inflation, given the payroll-heavy nature of hospitality businesses.
It was also noted that progression to more senior positions can be achieved amazingly quickly in the hotel and catering trade and that there seems to be no shortage of courteous, energetic applicants from overseas for the hundreds of thousands of job vacancies created each year. This is nothing new – I can remember working with Italian and French colleagues 30 odd years ago – but to listen to some observers you’d think our reliance on imported talent was a new phenomenon.
Apparently more and more intelligent school leavers who have an interest in working with people are choosing to go straight into the hospitality industry without bothering to take a degree course so that after three years they have already reached supervisory level. Others are choosing degrees that are actually relevant to the pursuit of a career in hotel management which, as we all know, can be extremely rewarding in every sense.
Some voiced the opinion that if the government wishes to improve the lot of junior workers it should not be talking about a higher minimum wage but should instead be trying to reduce the burdens (such as 20% VAT on accommodation) that hinder our ability to expand employment opportunities.
Everybody seemed to agree about one thing – the future is looking bright for hospitality and it deserves to be a first choice of career.