Interview with Gisela & Garry

"From the labor market to the job market - challenges in the catering industry concerning recruitment consulting"

Question (Q): Companies are now faced with increasing challenges due to the demographic change. What does that mean for the hospitality industry?

Gisela Willmes (GW): The labor market has changed into an applicant market. Many companies are not prepared for that yet because they lack attractiveness as an employer. To convince a person to work for me I must be able to offer prospects for the future and not only a good working environment and financial services. Initially, those are not the most important preferences for many applicants.

The entire applicant market has become very narrow. This is why individual service is of such great importance for us at LHC International. We can only find talented applicants and transfer them into new positions by prioritizing it.

Q: These changes have been well known for a long time and companies know that it is increasingly difficult to find suitable employees. Why are they still struggling to respond to these changes?

Garry Levin (GL): I would like to state some examples of an innovative hotel company which has understood what is important to today’s employees. It puts employee loyalty into a new perspective to keep the fluctuations low. Cars and bikes are made available to staff. Employees should also be involved in other areas of operation much more, too. The employees identify themselves with the business like that - not only at work but also after working hours. The work-life balance is extremely important today. Companies need to think beyond the normal 5 to 6 workday. Employees need to consider a way in which employees also benefit from the company.

Most young people who choose a business in the hospitality industry are career-minded. It is not enough to simply state what an employee has to do in order to get promoted. One has to adjust to the needs of the employee individually and develop various models to fulfill them.

Q: Are many individual hotels not overwhelmed by the task to recognize each and every need for all employees?

GW: Absolutely, most people think too much in old and rigid patterns. They still imagine the employee who is working twelve hours a day. But this generation is disappearing. I observed that subtle change for a good ten years. But the passion for the job is still there. We have a wonderful industry that is so inspiring and international - regardless of whether it is a luxury hotel or not. Companies must innovate themselves in a modern way to meet the needs of the people.

GL: People should stop thinking that only applicants are employed if they can show good marks on their CV. You have to recognize individuals and what strengths they will bring to the company. If someone has mainly worked in hostels, he may still be suitable for a 5-star establishment.

GW: Another major issue of the future is need-based training. The challenge of human resources departments is that they can no longer meet the needs of recruitment and training in the next few years to counter the trend. You need to introduce attractive programs. Health management may be an example as employees are getting older and you have to take care of them in a different way. Or take the work-life balance for which fitness classes can be offered. This sounds very easy but it can only work if programs are employed fully.

Let us take an example of a friend of mine who is an hotelier. He bought a car for the employee car-sharing program, renovated comfortable and adequate staff housing, and introduced free Wi-Fi and SKY. Now he has a clear competitive advantage over his competitors.

Q: Are the difficulties in the first place not to train HR departments themselves so that they can detect those needs?

GW: Of course. Besides doing their normal job, they also have to be designers - there must be a change from personnel management to human resource management. But that has to start on the corporate level of a company. I need the company’s support before I can change it.

GL: LHC stands for Lodging Human Capital International. What does that mean? We see ourselves as so much more than just fillers of vacancies. We see ourselves as consultants. I'll give you an example: We recommend a candidate and advise the company to get to know her. It then replies: "No, she is not what we are looking for." And that only because she does not fit all the desired requirements. Yet the applicant could be a very good leader in our opinion as she has important "soft skills". The hospitality industry needs to stop thinking that way. Other industries are already more subject-specific, not industry-specific.

Q: So many managers in the hotel industry have achieved advanced studies or come directly from hotel schools and learn modern management. Why is the industry still lagging behind when it comes to staff development?

GL: From my own experience I know that these programs are not always useful. If you do it right, you start with an apprenticeship. Then you should collect about five years of experience. Only then is it sensible to study which will be shortened as you do not have to do internships. I was taught how to peel onions on my first day of studies! I sometimes meet prospective managers who say that they have studied hotel management and want to work as a manager. Due to the changes in the labor market there are virtually no chances to move up quickly, though. Experience is so incredibly important in this industry.

GW: There is a huge challenge coming towards us all: There are fewer and fewer workers in the normal areas and we are going to have a much weaker labor market. Executives need to react. They have to deal with less potential and less qualified employees and will often have to help out themselves, even doing tasks for which they are overqualified. So they have a deficiency and a need at the same time as they are pressured "from above". It will be exciting to see how the industry will network all of that and how it will find the right positions and the right employees to fill them with.

Q: Why is the dropout rate of apprentices so high? For chefs, the rate is supposed to be at 50% already.

An apprentice is learning and lacks experience. One has to keep that in mind. In other words, he or she must be trained properly. Only then we will have loyal, skilled workers for the future. Unfortunately, many companies forget that they train for the whole industry and not only for their current needs which often demands more than is justifiable. Ideally, businesses convince their apprentices to stay with them. They only do so, though, if they feel comfortable. If these well trained professionals leave the industry we all have a problem.

GL: People must be informed that it is a demanding job. With brochures and young people in suits companies portray a false picture. It's a tough job which still has many advantages. The hotel industry is a very attractive one. I myself have a background in the hospitality industry then spend a few years doing something completely different and now I returned as a personnel consultant. My friends in the financial industry may earn more but who has the possibility to work in three different countries within five years? Where do you get to know so many people and cultures? And the best part is that you will find a job in every city in the world, no matter where the partner is transferred or where the children will move.

GW: We are not saying any new things, all of this has been known for years. But the consequence of the implementation is missing. The processes of change hardly occur, if ever. Ultimately, it is always the way I deal with young people which is important. How I introduce them to their working environment and how I give them the opportunity to develop their strengths. As an employer, I need to take care of them as individual personalities.

Q: Are there not a lot of mistakes being made in the recruitment process?

GL: Yes, unfortunately. But that is where we step in. Though, whether the customer then accepts the offer or not is another matter. LHC International has its experience not only from the hospitality industry but also from the recruitment services and we can see that there are a lot of mistakes being made. We screen both candidates and our clients to ensure that both match each other. Even if the CV is not perfect. The other day, we could find a great job for a candidate even though the client did not like his CV at all and did not want to meet him because of it. We had a lot of convincing to do but we were sure that it would be the right step to take for both parties involved. They got to know each other and the client was thrilled so that our candidate even started the new job a month earlier.

First of all, our most important task is to establish trust with the customer. Only then we can make a difference. Unfortunately, there are still companies who say that we never change the way we approach our clients. But we are and we are going to keep doing it. Though, If managers do not trust us this way of thinking will spread throughout the entire business and process changes will be rejected.

Thank you for the interview.