The journey towards Brexit has been described as a rollercoaster ride full of thrills and spills, but as the adrenaline continues to course through the veins of those on both sides, the scheduled date to leave gets ever closer. With twelve months to go until the UK is set to extricate itself from the EU there continues to be a lack of clarity about what it means for businesses across the country. Unless this changes there is real risk the historically consistent growth of the hospitality industry will be weakened.
Around three million EU nationals work in the hospitality sector nationally; 700,000 of them are in London, the equivalent of 1 in 7 jobs in the capital. Our industry employs a much higher proportion of EU nationals when compared to the UK workforce as a whole – 12.3% compared with 6.9%. We rely on them to run our kitchens, welcome guests from all over the world and provide excellent customer service. They play an extremely valuable role in the workforce and are vital for supporting growth within the industry.
As the UK prepares to transition away from the EU, there are three things to address to ensure that we remain a globally competitive nation.
Firstly, we must get better at training those who want to work in our industry. Restrictions on the freedom of movement will have a significant impact on the UK's ability to retain top talent. It has already been widely reported that there will be a notable skills and recruitment gap following Brexit. It is vital that as an industry we support our people with relevant, practical training. While there are some first-rate hospitality training colleges operating in the UK who are producing great entry-level candidates, they compete with the likes of Les Roches and Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne who are able to offer access to a much broader marketplace.
Second, we should be working harder to create partnerships within the sector. Our industry is Britain's third largest private sector employer and businesses themselves have a key part to play in growing the skills of the workforce so that they are trained for future roles. But they cannot do it alone. In 2016 Edwardian Hotels London committed to a 10-year partnership with Imperial College London Business School to develop the hospitality leaders of tomorrow. It combines with our membership to the 5% club and existing apprenticeship programme. We also believe that students should be offered much more practical experience, focusing on service excellence, so they get a real feel for the industry. Each year we induct a minimum of 30 graduates to our 18-month programme, where they gain experience across areas of the business including Front Office, Kitchen, Food and Beverage and Housekeeping. In addition, we need clear support from the government through offering more incentive-led schemes to enable those who have been long-term unemployed, or on a career break to return to work.
Third, we must improve the industry's reputation. We have to address the misconception that it is only made up of long hours and low pay: rather, we should promote the potential for a fulfilling, sustainable and long-term career. At Edwardian Hotels London we have some hosts who have been with us for decades and we work hard to promote these success stories. Finally, as an industry we must commit to offering more flexible working practices, such as part-time, or job-share options.
The clock continues to countdown with ongoing uncertainty. There is no value in speculating about what may be on the horizon; but with a year to go, the hospitality industry needs reassurance from central government that they will do all in the power to protect the UK's international reputation as dynamic and welcoming as we move away from the EU.
Inderneel Singh is the Managing Director of The May Fair Hotel