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It’s a tough market at the moment for recruiting in the hospitality sector. Sue Bromley looks into the option of using specialist outsourcing businesses.

If anyone can remember a tougher time for the hospitality industry when it comes to recruitment and retention of reliable and skilled staff, we’re yet to hear it. Brexit, currency exchange rates and low unemployment have created our version of ‘The Perfect Storm’.

Unserviced rooms cannot be let, so there are financial considerations that can easily outrank labour costs. Outsourcing of employment, from finding and training staff through to payroll and incentive schemes, makes more sense than ever for busy hotel managers and housekeepers who need to keep their eye on all the day-to-day challenges of their establishments.

While many recruitment specialists deal with top end hotels, you’ll find deals for one-off deals and flexible staff for smaller premises Photo: Darek Baranowski, Unsplash

Fortunately, we have some very talented and determined people heading up outsourcing specialist businesses with a wealth of experience, often gathered from their own previous employment ‘inhouse’ or through years of working exceptionally closely with clients. What’s more, they seem to relish the current challenges, tackling them with agility and finding ingenious solutions.

Take for example Human One, a family business originally headed up by the formidable Monica Whalley some 30 years ago and now overseen by MD Amber Whalley- Blount with operations manager Karla Keating-Nel and their team of consultants.

Keating-Nel says the hospitality and tourism world “has been the bread and butter of my life”. Originally from South Africa, her CV includes both working as conference banqueting manager there as well as a university lecturer in all aspects of hospitality.

“We have passion and drive, and so do our clients as we serve the luxury hotel market and top end private members clubs and gyms, the go-to London venues. The people we employ for them must not only be capable of the work but have the personality and experience to fit in with this.”

The exchange rate issue means that hotels in the capital and other UK cities are now competing for staff with much of Europe when it comes to recruiting. For the first time Human One are finding that the best room attendants are earning more than some waiters and bar staff.

But even in a difficult market Human One strive to be ‘picky’. For some roles a referral by friends or family might override a wealth of experience when the referring employee is already highly valued, as in-depth training and induction is always provided.

The hourly rates of some room attendants are now higher than those of bar staff, report Human One Photo: Louis Hansel, Unsplash

At no extra cost to clients they provide a trainer who will ‘baby-sit’ new starters on site so that the hotel’s housekeeper can carry on with normal duties without keeping a special eye on new recruits. And Human One have what Keating-Nel describes as their ‘secret weapon’: Sveti in the office is an expert when it comes to immigration rules, any visa restrictions, irregular practice and all the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of employment, helping to scrutinise potential staff from Eastern Europe.

Human One launched a networking organisation, ‘Leaders of Industry’, focussing on security in hotels. This has included brainstorming sessions with hotel security staff and sharing knowledge of trends appearing within areas or hotel groups.

With a management style built around “walking around and engaging with everyone working for the company at whatever level and in whatever role”, Edward Murray is ideally suited to the job he loves as CEO of OMNI Group, now servicing around 10 million rooms in the UK and another three million in the Netherlands.

They’ve enjoyed a lengthy relationship with the Hilton Group and other prestigious hotels built over 40 years of operation. OMNI have just opened a new recruitment office in Stratford, East London in partnership with GIG, the online platform for flexible shift work.

Murray says: “Early indications are that this has been a good move. Many potential recruits live out that way and it can seem prohibitive to them to come across to West London for an interview which could lead to nothing.”

But perhaps the most significant recent venture has been the introduction of their OMNI Clean software. Matt Williams, general manager at the DoubleTree by Hilton London Westminster, says: “We implemented OMNI Clean into our 464-bedroom operation six months ago. It has been a huge asset in the streamlining of the hotel operation. It allows a much more seamless interaction between all departments in the hotel.

“For our property the biggest impact has been the ease of reporting maintenance needs in the room. Maids can report instantly and even photograph issues. An immediate message is then sent to the maintenance team to allocate the work and the jobs are getting fixed at a substantially quicker rate than prior to the system going live.”

But once again it is ‘the personal touch’ which makes the difference. Steven Foster, divisional director for RBH Management, which manages some 45 hotels from country retreats to city bases, reveals how much he values that OMNI’s owner Riaz Ladha and CEO Murray get involved personally to help resolve any issues. He adds “Recruitment has been tough recently and retaining staff is difficult, specifically when it comes to cleaning rooms. The great news is that OMNI have a plan for this and even though, they like other suppliers have recruitment issues, they are big enough and care enough to deal quite effectively with this. The head housekeepers they recruit are generally brilliant and well supported by Leo Paz in their operations team.

“In terms of opening a hotel, we at RBH would not use anyone else. I’ve personally opened three or four hotels with OMNI. The opening team are very professional and do a fantastic job at getting the hotel guest-ready even in challenging time-bound circumstances.”

Adam Vickers of Quadrant Recruitment Ltd and then Quadrant A1 Cleaning Services is ‘hospitality, through and through’

Another familiar face who can rightly claim to be ‘hospitality, through and through’ is Adam Vickers, managing director of Quadrant A1 Cleaning Services. He happily admits to going through all the training to be a chef, but never actually worked in a kitchen as his bubbly front of house skills led him elsewhere.

His career took him to hotels both in the UK and overseas in operational roles before entering the recruitment market, at first from home, and then links with industry stalwart Linda Woodhouse led to eight years with Monica Whalley at Human One.

In 2015 he launched Quadrant Recruitment Ltd and then Quadrant A1 Cleaning Services two years later to provide a specialist cleaning service across Greater London. They serve top end and boutique hotels, as well as cleaning shops, hotels and offices, precisely matching up the needs of both their clients and hand-picked staff.

“Our people are very flexible,” says Vickers.” For instance, some are happiest working nights and being left to complete a job using their skills and abilities.” Brexit has created a minefield to negotiate, he admits. Quadrant closed a recruiting office in Romania because fewer people were seeking to come here, but ‘word of mouth’ continues to introduce new jobseekers, often joining family here who have discovered it’s a great place to live and work.

“Our staff are such very hard workers,” says Vickers. “When potential staff approach us, I’m always pretty sure that if their nationality ends with ‘ian’ then we have probably found someone to employ. They are all paid above the national minimum wage and we hold staff events such as an annual dinner. Without these excellent people coming to work here the industry would be in real trouble.”

Looking after the cleaning needs of some 300 hotels has seen WGC Ltd thrive since its launch in 1974. It may be a big portfolio, but success has come from supplying thoroughly trained and vetted ‘can do’ staff who fit with the culture of each operation, blending in with the full-time team.

Flexibility is also key, with WGC offering single services or agreed packages. They have a ‘Buddy Programme’ where experienced workers help to build up the skills and confidence of new starters and this year were recognised by inclusion in the London Stock Exchange’s group of 1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain, which identifies dynamic businesses offering a quality service, innovation and job creation. Proof indeed that there are people in this sector determined to exceed all expectations in a tough market.