Labor challenges prompt hotel managers to rethink hiring process

Hospitality often is called “the people business,” but it’s getting increasingly difficult to find qualified employees to help put heads in beds.

As of February 2018, the U.S. unemployment rate was 4.1 percent; a positive metric, to be sure, but one that brings with it unfortunate complications for finding entry-level hospitality workers. Kelly Gregg, director of recruiting at Benchmark Hospitality, said his company is on a mission to find students interested in hospitality and direct them to hotels. The challenge for Benchmark? Staying above water in a sea of opportunities for job seekers.

“In our industry, there are always challenges finding quality people, and the culinary component has been a particularly challenging area,” Gregg said. “There are a lot of fast-casual operations out there. I used to work with Panera Bread, and [it opens] a new property every 48 hours.”

Gregg suggests embracing new recruiting technology, particularly via mobile phones. Many young people treat their smartphone as their personal computer, and allowing the opportunity to apply for a job in a few minutes on their phone can be a differentiator when searching for a job.

“We used to post with one vendor and one job firm, but we realized we have to be everywhere,” Gregg said. “It used to be that if you had a reputation as a good job creator people would organically apply, but now social media has come into play.”

Another factor is where your job listings are showing up in online search results. According to Gregg, search engine optimization is the new metric by which your company’s success in finding applicants can be measured.

“Many job seekers will fill out just one or two applications on page one of a Google search, and there are a million different vendors out there,” he said. “If you are on page two or three, you may be out of luck.”

Many of today's entry-level job seekers are looking for work using only mobile devices. Photo credit: Getty Images/kasinv

Refer a Friend

Gregg also said that Benchmark implemented a policy in which every member of the organization acts as a recruiter for future employees. This is not uncommon today, with Gerry Chase, president and COO of New Castle Hotels & Resorts, claiming his company’s referral program is its No. 1 recruitment option. Outside of this, Chase also said in some cases it’s important to hire based on the content of an applicant’s character rather than his or her experiences, particularly in hospitality.

“In one of our properties, we hired a homeless person who came in and asked for work, and after two years they were promoted to line cook,” Chase said. “It’s more difficult to hire that way, but if you talk to people and listen to them, you can fill positions very well.” Chase said outreach and educational programs focused on the hospitality industry are also being implemented today to drive interest to hotels. Part of the reason these programs are so effective, he said, is because hotels still possess ample room to promote workers from within, which is a factor that many job seekers either aren’t aware of or lack faith in until shown data.

“We had a housekeeper who started with us 10 years ago, and she worked her way up from housekeeping to human resources assistant and finally to general manager,” Chase said. “She’s been there for several years, and not only do people like this do a great job but they stimulate interest, showing others that it’s not a dead-end job if you work hard.”

Know When to Hold 'Em

Recruitment is difficult enough, but how can a hotel hold onto talented workers without them either losing interest or deciding to work elsewhere?

Michelle Yianolatos, senior director of talent acquisition at HHM, said company and employee culture are very important factors in today’s world for retaining employees, and often are overlooked. However, with a little effort this can be turned into an effective way to raise morale and keep a hold on a hotel’s best workers.

“Recognition is key, as is providing feedback often,” Yianolatos said. “When an employer presents a clear vision on how their job impacts the business, this makes an employee feel more valued and allows them to take pride in their work. Our hotels are known as an important part of the communities they are located in, and allowing the local community to see the successes of a hotel and how they give back is a great way to tap into this.”

One way to keep existing employees from shopping their resumes around is to value their work, and show it. Photo credit: Getty Images/jamesteohar

“Company culture” is a decidedly vague term for something that is so important to workers, and Yianolatos said it’s important to discern what that culture is first and then find employees that match it.

“It’s all about alignment,” she said. “In order for a company to have a good culture, people have to understand what the culture embodies, and it has to be lived from the top down and it has to be visible, not just something that exists on paper.”

People Not Included?

One future challenge Chase wanted to address is the stance the hotel industry holds on automation. While he expects automation to improve operational efficiencies across the board, he also doesn’t see robots flipping guestrooms in the future.

“There was a similar scare 20 years ago when online conferencing first came out,” Chase said. “People were saying live conferences weren’t going to happen anymore, but people still have the need to connect in person and now conferences are bigger than ever.”

Gregg also referenced check-in kiosks, which serve as a means of automating one major hotel process. Even though these kiosks are popular, a live hotel worker is never far from them.

“The bottom line is that people want interaction,” he said. “They love being greeted. We have to impress from the very initial moment onward.”