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GV Group CEO discusses solutions to staff shortage problems

11th May 2022 - 04:00
Catering employers need to think seriously about how they connect with the next generation if they are to combat the staff shortages which are impacting the industry, argues Tevin Tobun, chief executive of GV Group (Gate Ventures).

There has been much talk recently about the next generation of employees and attitudes towards certain professions. There are some serious questions being posed to employers across different sectors about how they are attracting talent.

That, coupled with the fact that we are seeing a great ‘global resignation’ post-pandemic, has really brought recruitment and retention challenges to the fore.

Whether it’s hospitality, transport, engineering, the law or accountancy, many sectors are struggling to fill vacancies, and this is having a knock-on effect on supply chains and productivity.

The issues are not limited to the private sector, as public sector organisations are feeling the full force of this societal shift too.

Last year’s fuel shortage or driver ‘crisis’ really drove home some of the misconceptions people have around certain professions. It was a great example of how things can go terribly wrong if they are not addressed from the outset.

These misconceptions were not limited to ‘outsiders’ but have included people already working in catering and logistics.

These industries have been facing some serious challenges for some time around encouraging people to come into foodservice, whether as chefs, front-of-house staff, or even drivers delivering supplies to catering establishments.

In 2015, an all-party parliament group for freight transport published a ‘Barriers to Youth Employment in the Freight Transport Sector’ report which revealed a fifth of all HGV drivers would reach retirement age in the following ten years. That was 75,000 drivers and did not include those who would lose their licence, change jobs or, of course, those leaving due to the pandemic.

In fact, Covid could be one of the most significant factors, according to Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, who has coined the phrase ‘the Great Resignation’ to describe the large number of people predicted to leave their jobs in the wake of the pandemic.

What’s happened with drivers has had impacts that have rippled out, significantly affecting the operations of the hospitality sector, for example. It left chefs all over the country unable to access many of the ingredients and products they needed.

The number of new HGV drivers getting licences had already been dropping by 2015, when figures showed a 45% fall in the number obtaining an HGV licence over the previous five years.

The shortages were not new and, given the ageing driver workforce, the issues were inevitable - whether or not we had Brexit and Covid. To find a solution, we have to truly understand the current state of affairs.

It’s safe to say we are more connected now than we have ever been. Instant communication through apps, social media, and other platforms, mean that we are constantly in dialogue with one another. The expectation that people can do an HGV driving job and drive for hours with little or no communication with the outside world is misguided to say the least.

And you can apply the same principle to chefs or front-of-house teams who consistently work through ‘unsociable hours’.

It just isn’t practical to expect an employee to want to work in an industry where, for large proportion of the time, they will have no contact with friends or family.

We are no longer used to being alone. People have changed. When you look at how we communicate with one another and the lengths we go to, many people do not want to do jobs now where they are not able to instantly engage with others.

We are used to being at home and talking to colleagues and friends through Zoom, WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat. The chef or driving professions need to look at these behaviours and see that how they can bring connectivity to their workers.

It’s important to note that ‘connectivity’ doesn’t actually mean ‘talking’ anymore. In today’s society, we don’t necessarily want to talk to each other. Instead, we want to message each other through apps and other platforms.

People want visual engagement. Traditional ‘verbal’ engagement is alien to many of us. Phone calls are almost obsolete.

We’ve seen how the gaming industry taps into this. People connect through visual activity and we now have the ability to talk around what we are doing with other people. The connection starts with the visual element and is supported by verbal communication.

Employers need to be mindful of this. Drivers, for example, will need to have access to communications. When they stop for downtime or to rest, are there facilities available to help them connect with people?

Many service stations can be pretty awful places, so what are they doing to make it attractive for people to even stop there? Are there connectivity hubs in service stations?

And whose responsibility is it? Are the haulage companies themselves doing enough to ensure the working environment for their drivers is appropriate and engaging.

A service station is a driver’s office; it needs to be attractive. The same way that chefs and catering staff need to have appropriate facilities to refuel.

The example of the haulage sector can be applied to many others and if you want to tap into the talent pool of tomorrow, you have to make changes to cater to their needs today.

Chefs, front-of-house catering staff and kitchen porters, for example, all need better working conditions aligned to current behaviour.

We all need to look at things differently. The old model is no longer working and not fit for purpose. If Brexit and the pandemic have taught us anything, it’s that we need to keep adapting and evolving at a much faster pace to keep up with the speed at which the workforce is changing. We need to truly understand the new working habits and find flexible solutions to cater for these.

Written by
Edward Waddell