In an era of continuing labour challenges, key issues — such as attracting and retaining employees — must be skillfully navigated if the industry hopes to grow while continuing to offer top-notch service. Labour shortages are a “critical issue year round and are exacerbated in peak periods,” notes Susie Grynol, CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC). “The labour pool in Canada is thin…the industry is competing to attract the same talent.” Grynol remarks that changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for Seasonal Periods have made it “harder to access foreign workers” and restrictions created a “critical shortage.”
Lower-skilled positions often have been filled by Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW). And, a Statistics Canada report, How Temporary Were Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers? (2018), found “low-skilled TFWs and individuals from countries with low levels of economic development and social stability” had the strongest incentive to stay in Canada longer, or permanently, but Canada’s regulations affected whether they qualified for permanent status.
What Grynol sees as “fuel to the fire” is the “significant increase in tourism, both within Canada and abroad.” There is an increase in demand for hotel use and services that cannot be met. In a 2018 Labour Market Forum presentation, Philip Mondor, president and CEO of Tourism HR Canada, noted that from 2010 to 2035 there will be 240,000 tourism jobs without workers to fill them. He notes this shortage will affect economic growth, decrease profits, investments and customer service, and increase operating costs. And, according to Mondor, the labour shortage will cost the tourism industry $27.4 billion between 2010 and 2035. He also comments there will be “higher costs to recruit [and] retain” employees.
Arlene Keis, CEO of Go2HR, stresses that hoteliers need a “paradigm shift” in how they view employees and a change in hotel culture. Overcoming preconceived notions about a potential employee’s age is important. Keis comments that millennials, for example, are “like any other generation. They’re hard-working. They want to grow and learn.” She adds that “employers have to look equally at other generations and have more diversity in the age groups [they hire].”
This shift entails valuing diverse skill sets and experience. There is immense potential in Canada’s underutilized citizens. “Heterogeneity in the workforce is an absolutely fundamental strategy,” states Mondor. He adds, for example, “Indigenous [workers] are highly under-represented.” Seniors are another labour source Mondor suggests, as they are looking for part-time work.
The key to successfully drawing on diverse workers’ skills, Mondor says, is a “flexible work environment.” He advises hotels to “rethink and rework work. Focus on skills not jobs, think about assignments for specific tasks. Embrace the gig economy” and use freelance workers.
Keis recommends operators provide options for cross-training employees and also suggests rotating jobs so employees remain engaged. She also notes the importance of accommodating the needs of employees with children and providing flexible schedules.
Payroll- and HR-service provider, ADP Canada agrees, citing the top reasons why Canadians leave jobs is due to “poor manager relationships, work hours, the work itself and lack of career development.”
“The economy is booming, people have lots of choice [and this] increases competition,” Keis observes, adding that a good work culture creates happy employees. Mondor agrees, commenting that the “problem is not with workers, it rarely is.”
To help combat unfilled positions, Grynol says HAC, Tourism HR Canada and the federal government are developing a program that benefits both refugees and hotels. The pilot project, Grynol notes, “is specifically designed for the hotel industry to address labour shortages. [This] will mobilize new Canadians into available hotel jobs [and] allow new Canadians to build a meaningful life.” This program, she adds, includes having hoteliers provide language training. Hoteliers can also find employees through companies such as Specialisterne Canada, which specializes in providing employees who have autism-spectrum disorder. CIBC, TD Bank and Metrolinx are among the companies that benefit from these workers’ skills, in areas such as proofreading, accounting and programming.
Global competition for highly skilled employees is another type of turbulence hoteliers must navigate. These workers expect compensation beyond monetary rewards and can access global work opportunities. The Statistics Canada report found “high-skilled TFWs and individuals from developed economies have relatively low motivation to stay in Canada permanently because their skills are sought…internationally.” The report found “rates of stay for high-skilled TFWs were low to moderate, even though there were more available transition pathways for them [in Canada].”
Deloitte’s 2016 report Strategic Talent Management in High Tech, advised employers to consider generational differences in job expectations and personal development. The report stated millennials want more than monetary rewards, they “expect a clear purpose and a positive social impact” in their work.
To attract and retain employees and earn employee loyalty, companies must demonstrate that the employee’s and company’s values are in sync. This is especially the case given that hoteliers are competing with other sectors to attract employees, Mondor notes. To be competitive, he believes there should be “more messaging to show [the] value proposition” — what “tourism and hospitality [is] offering.”
This year, U.S.-based think tank, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, produced a report entitled How G7 Nations can Support and Prepare for the Next Technology Wave. This study noted the likelihood of future “occupational disruption” due to new technology. Similarly, a 2018 report by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) analyzed the types of competitive skills youth will need in the “Age of Disruption.” RBC stated more than 25 per cent of Canadian jobs will be “disrupted” by technology in the next 10 years. Youth will need soft skills, including critical thinking, social perceptiveness, complex problem solving, cultural awareness and adaptability, and hard skills such as digital fluency, mathematics, numeracy and the ability to identify trends and make “unexpected connections.”
To be competitive, a hotelier could offer current and potential employees opportunities to develop these skills. McKinsey & Company’s article Attracting and Retaining the Right Talent argues, “In a world of constrained [talent] resources, companies should focus their efforts on the few critical areas where the best people have the biggest impact.” In the “war for talent” a company with a stronger Employee Value Proposition (EVP) — i.e. rewards for employee efforts — than other companies will “attract and retain the best talent.” A company’s EVP should be “distinctive, targeted and real.”
Training and education programs can be part of hoteliers’ EVP. Mondor advises that programs need to be transformed to encourage “broad-based skills development.” He also notes HR policies need to change to allow for increased diversification and inclusion. A culturally open work environment at all levels will be attractive to potential employees.
The lifetime career climb within a company is extinct. To attract employees, hoteliers must consider the employee’s experience of the work offered, including unique culture and development opportunities — what Deloitte calls the “employee journey.” The job must be managed and designed with the employee’s input. This individualized work experience, the Deloitte report states, will increase job satisfaction and retention.
As an ADP Canada study concludes, “Canadian employees are looking for meaning and purpose in their work.” It found that “by considering the personal connection and meaning of each role…managers can create an employment journey…that is fulfilling, rewarding and beneficial for both the company and the individual.”
By thinking creatively and fluidly about skills, rewards and job ‘experiences’ hoteliers can be competitive employers while navigating the steep winds of change in the labour market.
“Invest in your brand in order to be an employer of destination,” Mondor advises.
Written By J Lynn Fraser