The hospitality and leisure industry is facing a desperate struggle to recruit and hire workers as the pandemic wanes and economic demand grows.
Restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic took a wrecking ball to restaurants, casinos, bars, and movie theaters. Many were forced to close their doors for extended periods of time and let their workers go, and now that they are opening back up, many former hospitality workers say they have no desire to return.
A recent survey by job site Joblist found that a staggering 38% of former hospitality workers report that they are not even considering a role in the industry for their next job. According to the research, more than half said they are leaving in search of a different work setting, 45% are looking for higher pay, and 29% are seeking better benefits.
Additionally, more than 50% of former hospitality workers actively searching for a new job said that nothing, including pay hikes and other incentives, would be enough for them to go back to work at their old hotel, restaurant, or bar job.
Adecco, a multibillion-dollar staffing company that services all industry cycles and has been in business more than 50 years, has felt the strain on the leisure and hospitality industry.
Amy Glaser, senior vice president and outsourcing lead for Adecco, told the Washington Examiner that the industry affected the most by the pandemic was leisure and hospitality, which “came to a crashing halt” because of the government-mandated restrictions on businesses, including restaurants, tourism companies, and hotels.
U.S. workers employed in the leisure and hospitality industry dropped from a pre-pandemic high of nearly 17 million in February 2020 to just 8.7 million two months later at the height of the lockdowns. As of last month, the numbers have still not returned, with only 14.7 million now working in the industry, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Glaser said that she thinks that gaps in the labor market related to the hospitality industry may not be specifically tied to fears of COVID-19 but rather a desire for better working conditions more generally.
The hospitality industry is known for being on the lower end of the pay scale, which makes the jobs less appealing to today’s job seekers.
She said that job candidates are not only looking for higher wages but also better benefits, opportunities for training and advancement, and more workplace flexibility — all things that the hospitality sector has been challenged by. Many former hospitality workers took their time without work during the pandemic to learn new skills and receive new certifications in order to move out of the hospitality realm, Glaser said.
The hospitality industry can be stressful and demanding, with workers standing for hours at a time. Glaser said that she thinks because many hospitality workers have ended up trying jobs in different industries, their appetite for returning to the taxing environment of the hospitality sector might have been diminished.
She said that a good example of the change is that call center business at Adecco is booming. The shift toward work-from-home call centers has given former hospitality workers the opportunity to use their skills in customer service while working at a job outside the hospitality industry.
The skills of some hospitality workers have also translated well to careers in warehouses — standing for long periods of time, working in a team environment, and learning and operating electronic tools, such as scanners.
Some companies in the hospitality and leisure industry are trying to attract worker interest by offering cross-training and career advancement opportunities through upskilling, Glaser said, noting businesses are starting to make strides in those areas but that there is still more that can be done.
Even though there appears to be an exodus of sorts from the hospitality and leisure industry into other fields, those hospitality jobs still need to find workers. Staffing agencies are seeing companies increase average hourly wages and offer signing and completion bonuses to lure workers back to the industry.
McDonald's is co-funding efforts to attract workers with franchisees, including a pilot emergency child care program, boosted hourly wages, paid time off, and tuition perks, according to CNBC. Chipotle Mexican Grill recently raised wages and is offering $200 referral bonuses for crew members. And Papa John's is giving corporate workers $50 for every new worker they bring to the company's payroll.
While Glaser said it appears that the hospitality industry is actively trying to make changes in terms of wages, another part of the equation that is still being neglected to some extent, and thus resulting in fewer employees, is addressing workers’ desire for benefits, such as medical insurance, particularly in light of the global health crisis.
“That’s one piece where the hospitality industry still has some opportunity,” she said.
The Joblist survey found that across industries nearly three-fourths of job seekers believe that employers need to reevaluate the benefits that they offer after the pandemic.
But when will the hospitality industry finally get back to normal? According to Glaser, recovery is likely at least six months out, with the hope that the industry will be back to normal by the summer of next year, but there is still quite a bumpy road ahead.
Another factor that some economists say is hurting not just the hospitality industry but also other industries is the supercharged unemployment benefits being doled out by the federal government. The benefits provide $300 per week stacked on top of what each state already provides. And while about half of the states are opting out of the program or already have, populous states including New York and California are waiting until the payments end in September.
Glaser said the benefits have had an effect on the labor market and that some people might be using the time while they still receive the boosted payments to get certifications or search around for opportunities in other industries.
“I definitely think it’s had an impact,” she remarked.
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: Zachary Halaschak