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The End is Near! Are You Prepared for the Staffing Crisis?

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By Joseph D'Alessandro

April 24, 2012

Insights for the hospitality field from a leading human resource development agency

 Not talking about the Aztec calendar here, but the end of abundant candidates to fill the entry-level positions in restaurants, hotels and resorts. The employment market is changing and the years of hundreds of qualified applicants to fill each position are going to become rarer with each passing month.

Not too many years ago, the hospitality industry was struggling to find employees just to fill all the open positions (let alone find quality employees). According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in April of 2005 the industry hit a peak of 683,000 job openings in the industry. That was followed by the next three years of over 600,000. This dropped dramatically starting in May of 2008 when the number of openings began to slide.
Many Companies chose to decrease benefits and salary without focusing on employee engagement. Applicants were beating down the doors for jobs…they went from being the hunted to the hunter.

So why the alarmist headline?

The data we are seeing now is going to spark celebrations when comparing revenue performance over prior year. The challenge is to not get too complacent because as this economy heats up…staffing is going to get tough.

If you look back you will find many Internet postings like these two talking about the challenging labor market the industry faced just a few short years ago:
These articles reflect the serious staffing crisis and CEO’s viewed staffing as either a # 1 or #2 priority. The challenge was we had great demand for products and services, but nobody to help deliver those products and services. That leads to declining top line results.

Today’s smart companies project out the next few years and understand that today’s great staffing environment is going to change quickly. The most recent job opening statistics show the number of openings in Jan 2012 at over 100K more than the three preceding years. Add to that the recent information about the current job market and you will come to the same conclusion…it is going to get tough, sooner rather than later.

These two articles are excellent examples of what I am talking about.

The workforce pool is becoming depleted, resulting in a more competitive environment for employees. What are you doing to create a competitive advantage with it comes to employee engagement? Are you prepared for the end of easy hiring and staffing, as we know it? If not now, when? You have been warned…

Curt Archambault is the Vice President for People and Performance Strategies and has over 30 years of experience in the training and development/performance consulting field for the hospitality industry. Mr. Archambault is responsible for business development as well as working with emerging and mid-size organizations seeking the right talent selection, training, development and HR practices to achieve the next level of growth.

Mr. Archambault experience includes having been responsible for a team of consultants charged with improving operational performance at client companies. He has initiated and led numerous personal and performance improvement strategies resulting in demonstrated growth at all levels. In addition, he has been a speaker on both the local and national level specializing in topics such as Return on Investment, Leading a Strategic Training function, and Executing First Class Guest Service.

Mr. Archambault is a member and past President for the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART). He majored in Business Management and earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Phoenix.

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Posted by Brian Carrick on 4/25/12 at 3:42 AM EST

I wish this was true but my experience has been that since the late 1970s, illegals have taken over more and more kitchens and when I left California in 1989 to move to Hawaii, they followed me there as they did in Washington State in 1997. Unfortunately, there are more non-English speaking employees in modern kitchens than there are natives and if wages of $14-$15 were to be had JUST for line cooks in 1989 whereas as of 2001, they became $7.00 an hour, something is definitely going in the wrong direction. I have never seen my industry collapse in the way that it has and this is symptomatic of the collapse of the American economy. Unless illegals are sent home and soon, wages will continue to drop, benefits will continue to vanish, and jobs will become scarcer and scarcer. I am sad for my industry as I did very well throughout the 1970s and 1980s then had to struggle during the 1990s to find jobs in which, I could make a decent wage and not have to donate four hours’ free time per day to get my job done. I am an experienced hotel, country club, gourmet chef, baker, meat-and-fish-cutter, and sous chef, chef, and food and beverage manager and I have NEVER seen things the way they are. Send the illegals home first, then we will talk about there being a shortage of trained foodservice staff. Great article, Chef Brian Carrick, 40+ year’s foodservice experience, worked in California, Hawaii, and Washington State.
Posted by James Nordman on 5/1/12 at 8:29 AM EST

In response to Brian's post:


First, I hope your claim is really directed to illegal immigration and not immigration in general. I have many immigrants working for me, legally, as far as I can tell. I also have many friends who legally immigrated. My family legally emmigrated from Germany many, many years ago. Not many of us can claim to be native to North America.

Secondly, Americans want good food at cheap prices. As an experienced chef and F&B Manager, I'm surprised that you don't realize that paying $15/hour in your BOH would reduce your ability to market your food to the everyday consumer. As Americans, we want a high-quality and inexpensive product but we believe that the person providing it (as long as they're not the owner) should be making $40/hour. We don't get it both ways. I've had many non-immigrants turn down jobs because they felt it was "beneath" them.

Maybe the system is broken due to an outdated minimum wage that causes full-time employees to remain within, or slightly above, the poverty line. Not every problem with the economy and in American can be blamed on the "illegals". I'm less and less convinced that people are actually referring to illegal immigration and not Mexicans overall. Americans need to be more aware of how our choices and our decisions (demanding the cheapest product) affect our own abilities to compete for employment.

Posted by Brian Carrick on 5/1/12 at 11:02 AM EST

Number one, of course I am talking about illegal immigration which I did not believe I had to make clear. The fact is, you sound to me, Mr. Nordman, like the restaurant owners who want to do everything on the lowdown so business floods your establishment and I would suspect that you manage or work for a chain restaurant whereas all of my experience is fine-dining country club, hotel, and top of the line resort restaurants--you pay for what you get, I don't do it on volume, never did but on quality and have either been paid or paid the help top of the line money. I have seen the effects of middle level coffee shops (no longer in existence) and restaurant owner's associations and how they work extremely hard at keeping wages low, benefits low, and their help under their thumb. It is a shame that only the BIG cities and Las Vegas manage to still pay professionals professional wages. You misunderstand me, however, there is nothing wrong with immigrants but it's the illegals that many work hard at bringing in, covering for, and protecting in this age of cut-throat, slash-and-burn ownership/management. Foodservice is an art, not cafeteria, not chains, not fast food, it is about QUALITY and most normal diners who dine for quality don't mind paying for it whereas the owners/operators doing it on the cheap do. It is a shame that the spirit is lost on those who see the Golden Corral, Applebee's, Tahoe Joe's, and Denny's as the epitome of fine-dining...that is crap, my friend.
Posted by Brian Carrick on 5/1/12 at 11:08 AM EST

That's right, Maggie, we do need to hire our own countrymen and not the excess of other nations where wages are nonexistent. I began working in foodservice in the late 1960s and was there for the amazing times of the 1980s. We served quality not quantity and I did not need to hire illegals to it. The immigrants we brought on board at the Stockdale Country Club in Bakersfield were legal immigrants from the civil war in El Salvador and the illegals were displaced and sent home. It can be done and history shows that it worked before during the Great Depression and during other economic hard times. If owners and managers were willing to take more out of their pockets and provide it to their help, their money would roll in just as TAX CUTS boost the economy. It is so amazing to me all of the modern-day F&B men, out of college seem to think that serving tons of slop is better than serving a fair amount of top-quality product, everything made from scratch either on the premises or from local bakeries. THAT is how success is achieved in the United States of America! Think about what is happening to the country and what must be done in November if you ever want to see the Golden Age of restaurants return. If things continue on as they are now, I may be working in fast food. No, BUT I will abandon California and go back to Washington State or the Big Island.

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