Many hoteliers spend countless hours brainstorming and fine tuning the type of experience they want to create for their customers. But, too few of them are applying that same approach to their people resources, which is why many find it difficult to attract and retain great hospitality associates.

“Companies have a business plan, but is there a talent strategy in place?” asks Bill Pallett, former senior VP of People Resources for Delta Hotels and Resorts and founder of the WJ Pallett & Associates consultancy in Toronto. He says every hotel company needs a talent strategy for the people side of their business.

This new line of thinking couldn’t have come at a better time, as Canada’s aging population, changes to the temporary foreign worker program, a looming labour shortage and increased international competition contribute to staffing challenges in all segments — from independent hotels to the largest chains.

Front-line hospitality jobs will continue to be difficult to staff, according to Tourism HR Canada’s “Bottom Line” report, which estimates 240,000 potential tourism job gaps by 2035. The situation is dire in the west, where British Columbia currently has the highest demand for workers. Demand is expected to grow from 288,000 full-year jobs to more than 430,000. Meanwhile, significant demand growth is also expected in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The aging population is helping the retirement-lifestyle industry flourish and, as it grows, it threatens to nab top talent from the hospitality industry. “Let’s not kid ourselves — people look at different industries [for work]; they’re not just married to one industry,” says Pallett. “These days, you need to understand what other industries are doing when it comes to talent management because, if you don’t, you risk a higher turnover rate. As somebody famous once said, human resources are the only resource you don’t own. They could go any time.”

Strategy is about value creation, and that starts with people, sums up Pallett. “Any organization that doesn’t have a good talent strategy is at risk. As a part of that, operators need to determine their employee value proposition.” To do that, you need to identify your strengths and weaknesses, honing in on areas of improvement, including training, onboarding, succession planning and more.

Some companies do a great job of showing off their unique value propositions. On Marriott’s Career website, prospective employees can find out about travel discounts, awards and attractive growth opportunities. One such program is the Voyage Global Leadership Development Program, which pairs university students and recent graduates with mentors around the world.

At the Rosewood Hotel Georgia in Vancouver, the HR team takes personalization to the next level, pairing new employees with a Standards Specialist to create a personalized training program that informs on all aspects of service.

One of the biggest labour challenges is the freedom of movement, and the changing demographic and values in the workplace. According to the Tourism HR Canada report, the front-line demographic for hospitality jobs — ages 15 to 24 — is decreasing, even as Canada’s population grows. What’s more, it’s projected to continue shrinking until 2022. “Companies are realizing they have a very demographically complex workplace. We have never had so many generational groups at once. And, the fact of the matter is, one-size-fits-all doesn’t work anymore. Smart companies are developing a talent strategy based on their knowledge of their demographical mix and what they can do to appeal to those different generations, whether it’s putting in a social-media platform or a different approach to onboarding,” adds Pallett.

Cross-training is part of the value proposition (and recipe for long-term associates) at the Toronto Don Valley Hotel & Suites, where GM Kevin Porter is kicking off the summer season with a slew of new graduates — all of whom he hired without a job description. “Typically, in a unionized world, you hire for a specific position, and that’s what [they] do for 40 years. But what we’re starting to realize is by cross-utilizing those people, there’s then an opportunity to grow. I have hired seven junior people who don’t have job descriptions — they aren’t a bellman, server, a front-desk agent, but I am teaching them in all of those areas.”

In addition to opportunities to work with a mentor and learn all aspects of the business, employees of the Toronto Don Valley Hotel & Suites have access to free breakfast so they can stay energized during their shifts. They also get a reduced gym rate so they have free rein of the facilities and pool on site.

But, it’s not just about a fancy benefits package, cool cafeteria perks or gym memberships to keep employees engaged. “Millennials are looking for authenticity. If you’re not transparent and genuine as an organization, they’re out of there,” says Pallett. That means sharing your beliefs as a company and, more often, what you’re doing to change the world, whether that’s environmental advancements, charity work or international aid.

Timing factors heavily in effective onboarding, where some companies are choosing to nix the one-day orientation in favour of small chunks of learning that may be specialized to the demographic or even individual. Some companies may send an email prior to the employee’s first day, welcoming them and providing an overview of the hotel’s history. “And the first day you’d have a bit of a hands-on learning, but it’s staggered over the first six months in digestible chunks and the training comes when you need it,” says Pallett.

Porter also looks for labourers outside traditional job avenues. He’s on the advisory board of the Toronto Hospitality Workers Training Centre, a non-profit workplace development program that helps fill gaps in the hospitality sector by training unemployed workers and providing them with the skills they need to succeed in a hotel — whether it’s English classes or foodservice training. “In this hotel, I train the housekeepers, the servers and front-desk agents through the program. It’s about taking people out of the system and integrating them into the hospitality sector,” he says.Hoteliers are also taking cues from the sharing economy to discover new ways to attract front-line workers and fill daily gaps in staffing. One example is an app called iConnekt (formerly Connect for the Best), which matches pre-qualified hospitality workers to hotels in need, as part of a new online referral and booking system and job portal.

Hoteliers pay a monthly fee to access the service, where they can search for workers by availability or skill set, for both short-term and permanent positions. The flexibility is appealing to many precarious workers in the industry, adds Porter, who is part of the list of hotels involved in this program, which also includes The Westin Harbour Castle, One King West Hotel & Residence, The Sheraton Centre Toronto and more.

“You’ll be able to log in, make as much or as little money as you want because the opportunities will always be there. We’re also going to offer them the opportunity to share in a retirement plan, where a percentage of the money that we charge the employer will go towards the employee’s retirement plan, and we will match it,” says Porter. Workers and hoteliers alike are incentivized to offer the best service — and employment experience — possible, thanks to a ratings and reviews hub that keep both parties honest. It’s part of the changing world of staffing and reimagining the hiring experience, says Pallett. “It’s going to be extra work, but you’d do the same for your customers wouldn’t you? Welcome to the new world.”

Volume 29, Number 5
Written by Jackie Sloat-Spencer 


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