Business News

Events Industry Still Playing Catch-Up to Upskill Its Workforce 

Skift Take

Rehiring and reskilling conference center staff is a priority of the industry and must be complete before group business returns to where it was pre-pandemic. 

One of the key findings in IAAC’s just released Meeting Room of the Future report is that rehiring and reskilling conference center staff is a priority of the industry and must be complete before these venues can bring group business back to capacity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that finding, as it reports the hospitality industry’s workforce is at just 84 percent of its prior size. Overall, the sector has 1.3 million fewer employees than it did in 2019.

Figures highlighted in the report conducted by Oxford Economics show that in March of this year, one in 10 accommodation and food service positions were unfilled. However, the same measurement in June saw a reduction to one in nine job openings rate for the leisure and hospitality sector.

The IACC report found that areas such as sales and operations management are in particular need of qualified workers. Turnover rates have remained high since the pandemic. Food and beverage positions and sales and conference planning roles have been especially impacted, with some salaries increasing 30 percent to attract workers.

Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC, said of the labor deficiencies addressed in the report, “IACC will support its members and community over the next year by providing important personal and professional development opportunities as the industry continues to repair the skills and knowledge shortfall that exist.”

Report contributor Ellen Sinclair, senior vice president, Benchmark, said her company was having success attracting workers by providing educational opportunities through Benchmark and partnering with colleges/universities to earn degree credits. “IACC plays an important role here through the training and events they run and their mentoring program. Expanding personal skills to advance staff careers makes hospitality much more than a transitional job. It can be a personally and financially satisfying career, creating staff longevity while continuing the advance through the hotel/conference center company ranks,” she said.

Automation was highlighted as another tool for easing the strain of labor shortages. The report encourages IACC members to use automation to seek efficiencies in areas that will reduce reliance on humans to carry out process-heavy and low-contact roles, such as check-in and food ordering, as previously covered in this Skift Meetings story.

“We’ve tried to look into how can we use technology to make us 10 to 15 percent more efficient because we have about 10 percent of an employee shortage. That’s how we’re looking at it, rather than fully automating an entire department through technology,” said Sloan Dean, CEO and president of Remington Hotels.

Lisa Sommer Devlin, a hospitality lawyer representing hotels, says it is important to address the issue of reduced staffing levels because it can expose properties to legal action, especially on pre-pandemic contracts. “Hotels and conference centers can’t guarantee that everything will be exactly the way it was two years ago, so they have to let clients know what the current availability of services will be, and that’s tough to do when your workforce is unstable.”

Remington Hotels have implemented programs that offer childcare to make it easier for parents to reenter the workplace. Other incentives include courses that teach English as a business language to help those potential employees for whom English is a second language get on the career track in the hospitality industry. Hilton has also invested in education. The hotel chain now offers employees courses to obtain a GED and learn English as a second language.

Roger Dow, the outgoing CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, is starting a company that aims to bring stability to the staffing problems of the hospitality industry. Future Work Solutions (FWS) is an app that will connect qualified workers with hotels that need them to supplement their existing staff. The app partners with Searchwide, an executive recruitment firm for companies in the tourism industry. The site is scheduled to go live in the next few months.