staff training

Developing your restaurant’s workforce

By Soofia Mahmood

Training and development in the hospitality industry must be viewed in terms of a more profound concept known as workforce development. That is the only sustainable solution to the growing demand-supply gap in the industry.

The most definable aspect of the hospitality industry is its people. With this industry’s rising contribution to our economy, there is no doubt that skilled workers with opportunities for continuous upgrading are crucial to its sustainable success. It is predicted that by 2035, nearly a quarter of a million potential tourism jobs in Canada might go unfilled due to projected labour shortfalls and increased demand. To avert the impending “people crisis,” the solution is simple – we need to focus on not just skills training, but Workforce Development.

The concept of Workforce Development focuses on people to achieve prosperity in a business. The concept comprises various intertwined solutions that are meant to meet employment needs – both for the employers as well as employees. With this approach, the industry can access workers with the skills in demand, while focusing on the career development of people in need of employment.

For the hospitality industry with foreseeable demands on the rise, in a city with evident employment gaps, a sector-based workforce development strategy that focuses on building human capital for the industry while developing the community is the logical way to go. Some crucial steps may be considered to start adopting a business-wide workforce development attitude.

Strategic skills need assessment

Strategic human resource planning is an essential component of any comprehensive business strategy. The planning process takes into account both internal and external factors that may impact the business through its various operational elements. If the property plans to upgrade its technological assets in the next few years, there would be a pressing need to have computer-literate staff to transition to the modern systems. Analyzing tourism demand trends and projections would impact the anticipated labour needs. Focusing on insights from your consumers, a gap in service or expectation might be identified. All this and more would point towards changing human resource needs in the short or long run and highlight whether they can be fulfilled by hiring new entrants, developing existing workers, or both. Planning strategically and in-tune with the overall business strategy will enable business leaders to establish effective training and recruitment partnerships to fulfill the short and long-term skill demand.

Establishing training and recruitment partnerships

Recruitment, training and development, as well as retention of new or existing staff, involve high cost for every organization. Social investment, on the other hand, as part of the corporate social responsibility strategy also requires major spending. Creating partnerships that provide skills training and career development services with a social mandate of supporting communities can provide the perfect tangent that caters to both – business needs and social responsibilities and are essential to following the Workforce Development approach. Additionally, a major growing global consumer trend indicates that social responsibility is increasingly influencing consumers’ purchasing behaviours. Forging such partnerships that support communities in finding employment would also position brands as socially responsible, elevating their appeal to the enlightened consumer.

Many non-profit initiatives like HWTC have emerged over the years, providing sector-focused, free and funded training and employment services with the macro-objective of supporting the industry’s skills needs, by way of connecting marginalized communities to job opportunities.

The most successful of such initiatives are almost always reciprocal for all stakeholders. If the partner is taking responsibility of providing skilled workers to the industry, the industry must allow the workforce solutions to be viable by reducing barriers to employment, providing opportunities for unpaid training placements and fostering a nurturing work environment. At the end of the day, the business always wins as the success of businesses, in the long run, depends on having stronger communities.

Furthermore, to ensure that such partnerships thrive, the industry and its employers have the right to monitor and evaluate the standards, quality and methodology of training and contribute to its improvement for the benefit of the entire industry.

Providing dedicated hands-on training opportunities

The value of real-life work experience as an important aspect of skills development is a popular and widely accepted notion. Providing opportunities to existing and potential employees for experiential learning can be a very successful strategy, not just for training but also for identifying strengths and improvement areas. Job shadowing is often given too much importance under this premise. Although that does provide opportunities to observe, it does not facilitate the hands-on experience that is most conducive to learning. New entrants must be given opportunities to learn through short duration unpaid training placements, internships and apprenticeships as an investment in the future of the business and the industry. As a hospitality training partner, one of the most successful elements of our program at HWTC is the unpaid training placement of participants who have been fully trained in controlled environments. These placement opportunities develop our trainees’ skills further, orient them to specific employer standards and provide potential employers a chance to observe the trainees before deciding to offer employment.

Evaluating results of training

For any training and development initiative, it is important to monitor and evaluate its effectiveness on an on-going basis. This can provide meaningful evidence needed to develop improved strategic plans that are more dynamic, an essential requirement for all businesses operating in environments continuously in flux. To monitor results and investigate return on investment, a set of Key Performance Indices (KPIs) need to be identified and established as baseline. In addition to the obvious measure of pre and post training skills development, other factors to monitor include trends in customer satisfaction (in interaction with staff), employee motivation levels, retention and turnover rates as well as cost of recruitment and training.

Developing a culture of support

Often, training is focused on the essential vocational requirements. The skill most needed in hospitality, however, is emotional perseverance. A hospitality employee works in an environment which expects him/her to be upbeat and joyful on duty, no matter the circumstances. Can you train someone to be flexible, patient and pleasant if not all, then at least most of the time? The answer is yes and it lies in breeding a culture that promotes development, growth and positivity. Better people management strategies, employee engagement activities, opportunities for continual job enrichment and a management team that is supportive of new entrants are some ways to develop a positive culture that in turn makes employees stay, and stay happy.

The first step in developing a culture that promotes openness, collaboration and constructive dialogue is to include formal training and development for people who manage the staff. Training hiring managers or supervisors in empathy, understanding and support is crucial to having happy and long-term employees. Sensitization of managers and supervisors in understanding the barriers many employees may face would also help in building a culture rooted in the Workforce Development approach. If an organization does not promote learning that goes beyond vocational skills and workers, the benefits of training – formal or informal, independent or partnered – will be unsustainable.

The belief that the success of its people is the success of an organization is a game-changer for the service industry, and people can only be consistently successful when they are positively enabled. Being a Workforce Development Champion as a business is that enabler.

About the author:

Soofia Mahmood is Communications Manager, Hospitality Workers Training Centre (HWTC), a non-profit organization working in Toronto’s hospitality and food service industries. Based on a sector-focused workforce development approach, HWTC provides free training to new entrants and existing workers for employment and career development. The centre also runs a full-service training restaurant, Hawthorne Food & Drink, in downtown Toronto. For any queries or talent needs, please contact [email protected]. Twitter @HospitalityWrks