Securing that one in a million manager

Despite unemployment running at over 10 percent in the eurozone, some businesses are finding it hard to fill their vacancies. Charles Prew, CEO of Barcelò Hotels and Resorts UK, examines why there is a lack of good managers

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A recent survey by the People 1st Training Company, Stonebow, revealed that over a quarter of businesses are struggling to find the right calibre of staff, especially when recruiting for managerial roles.

In the UK, around 2.5 million people are out of work, yet some businesses are finding it hard to recruit staff. The UK’s hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industry (HLTT) is one of the country’s largest employers accounting for seven percent of jobs in the country. Last year, David Cameron became the first Prime Minister to openly acknowledge the critical role that the tourism and hospitality industry will play in driving the economic recovery. Cameron highlighted the importance of attracting talent to the industry and even stated that our sector was one of the fastest ways of generating jobs the country so desperately needs.

People 1st, the UK’s sector skills council for hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism, found that 39 percent of employers find the lack of management skills in the sector to be a key concern. A survey by Stonebow, its training company, found that in fact over a quarter (27 [ercent) of businesses are struggling to find the right calibre of staff especially when recruiting managers and leaders. Barcelò UK has experienced the challenge of finding good managers first hand and as the research indicates, it is not alone.

Mind the skills gap
Whenever Barcelò UK advertises its general manager vacancies, it is often inundated with applicants most of whom are not suitable. We look for people who have excellent people and management skills with the commercial acumen needed to survive tomorrow’s business climate. Today’s general manager needs to be much more than an accommodating host in charge of a hotel. He or she must be skilled in other areas such as business trend analysis, e-marketing, energy management, corporate and social responsibility, health and safety and employment law.

Most applicants either lack some of these skills or cannot demonstrate their expertise in these areas during interviews. Some applicants lack an understanding of key skills that can be transferred from other industries to the hospitality sector. Hospitality is a people focused industry so communication and customer service skills play a pivotal role. What skills are transferable for a manager working in another sector wanting to make the transition to hospitality? Here are a few pointers from People 1st’s training company Stonebow:
– Experience of motivating employees, especially during challenging tasks;
– Launching sales and marketing campaigns;
– Developing a new or fine tuning an internal procedure, for example customer complaint handling;
– Managing budgets and growing a business or department;
– Ability to speak different languages.

Commitment from the CEO is critical

If organisations find it difficult to recruit new managerial staff from external sources, what can businesses do to ensure they can access a pool of capable managers and leaders? The answer is to invest in the development of existing staff and nurture their talent. A report from the European Commission last year found that companies that do not train staff are nearly three times as likely to go out of business compared to those that do invest in their people.

Barcelò has been working with organisations such as People 1st which has developed national qualifications and apprenticeships for supervisors and managers. People 1st’s training company developed bespoke management and leadership skills programmes for existing members of staff at Barcelò. Over the past few years we have promoted five operations managers to general manager and believe this is the best way to train and secure our future leaders.

The drive to develop and nurture future leaders must come from the top. A CEO needs to recognise that each individual in the company is different with distinctive career goals. He or she must demonstrate the benefits of training and development to staff so that they proactively seek to gain more skills and put in place a succession plan and share this with members of staff, so they understand what is expected of them.

Along with training, embrace apprenticeship programmes to attract new members of staff. Apprenticeships can help businesses across all sectors as they offer a route to secure new talent to bridge the skills gap. Apprentices learn on the job, build up knowledge, skills and gain a qualification. In the UK, apprentices will do a job to agreed standards set by their industry’s sector skills council – so the work is benchmarked. Apprentices tend to be highly motivated because they can see that you are investing in their training and are taking an active role in their development.

Industry best practice
Reflecting on industry best practice, employers such as McDonald’s, Travelodge and Merlin Entertainment – whose brands include Alton Towers and Madame Tussauds, have remarkable training and development programmes to help staff fulfil their potential. Their business success is based on the ability to find the right calibre of new people and develop key skills amongst existing staff – especially in management and leadership.

McDonald’s is one of the leading providers of apprenticeship programmes and has worked with our industry’s sector skills council to match their own in-house training programmes to nationally accredited qualifications. Travelodge, the budget hotel company, in partnership with the National Skills Academy for Hospitality recently opened a Skills Academy, located inside the Coventry Travelodge to train not only its staff but also others in the region who work in hospitality. Merlin Entertainment has a robust leadership programme designed to help their business fill management and leadership vacancies internally.

Skills for the new economic reality
The European Commission in its “New skills for new jobs” report states that one of the greatest challenges facing Europe today is the need to upgrade, adapt and widen the skills of individuals to create and fill the jobs of tomorrow. So why is there a skills gap? It’s a result of inadequate skills training compounded by the fact that training budgets across organisations have taken a beating because of the recession. As the storm clouds of economic uncertainty gathered, too many businesses cut their training and development budgets to weather the storm. Did it work? Of course not: it is never a good time to cut training budgets.

Developing employee skills now will help businesses overcome their skills gap in the short-term and ensure companies become more sustainable in the long-term. However, the economic turbulence is not likely to settle down anytime soon and businesses must evolve to meet future challenges. The ability to see the bigger picture and think long-term is what sets businesses like McDonald’s, Travelodge and Merlin apart. Having capable managers who are able to lead their staff and the company effectively will make all the difference for businesses. That is why training is invaluable: even the best managers need to be kept on top of their game.