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Why combatting ageism is key for filling hospitality vacancies and creating an inclusive workplace

Why combatting ageism is key for filling hospitality vacancies and creating an inclusive workplace

Picture1040124 - Business ExpressAuthor: Penny Brown, Managing Director of Burgh Island Hotel

Recent figures from the ONS have revealed a staggering reality: hospitality staff vacancies are 48% higher than before the Covid-19 pandemic, totalling 112,000 openings at the end of 2023.[1] However, over-50s workers offer an unprecedented solution to this crisis – spurred on by the Government to return to work, over-50s now make up a third of the industry’s workforce, with hospitality being the leading sector of choice for the age group.[2]

However, ageism remains pervasive in the hiring process. Older workers remain underrepresented – only 4% of those who feature in advertisements are over the age of 60, despite making up almost a quarter of the UK population.[3] Despite the benefits of hiring over-50s, stereotypes remain, with common misconceptions including suggestions that older workers are less productive and adaptable, less likely to stay in their roles, and more prone to health issues.

To combat ageism and foster a more inclusive workplace culture, it is imperative to prioritise age diversity initiatives, showcasing the value older workers bring to hospitality businesses. By doing so, we can work towards filling crucial vacancies in the industry and open up more opportunities for older workers in the hospitality sector.

Invaluable experience

These seasoned professionals bring with them a wealth of knowledge accumulated over decades of service, enriching hospitality businesses with valuable experience. Firms can utilise over-50s to broaden the range of skills within their teams, mentoring existing employees to enhance their skillsets while acting as a role model to cultivate a more positive work environment.

Presently, around 40% of hospitality businesses acknowledge the wealth of skills older workers bring: a strong work ethic; business acumen; the ability to remain calm in difficult and stressful situations; and their strong customer experience skills.[4]

To capitalise on the wealth of experience and expertise they offer, it’s crucial for the industry to recognise the numerous advantages that come with employing more mature individuals in the workplace. Simultaneously, hospitality businesses must cater to the unique needs of this demographic. Many older workers may have additional commitments outside of work. Fortunately, hospitality is well placed to offer flexible and seasonal roles, which can allow older workers to take time off during quieter periods to prioritise family commitments. By embracing flexible work arrangements, the sector can break down barriers and empower older workers to pursue and engage in roles that leverage their expertise while allowing them to make meaningful contributions to the industry.

Eradicating employment hurdles

Promoting an inclusive environment plays a pivotal role in dismantling the barriers to older workers’ entry into the hospitality workforce.

A notable example of this was McDonald’s successful recruitment campaign targeting older workers. Featuring a silver-haired employee portrayed as anything but the “retiring type,” the campaign showcased the value of older workers and promoted inclusivity in the workplace. Such initiatives contribute to building a welcoming culture for employees and job applicants.

Similarly, the Government’s ‘returnership’ programme – high-level internships that encourage older workers to return to employment, upskilling them to fill vacancies, while encouraging employers to hire them – provides incentives for older workers to feel valued and included. Likewise, Amazon’s comprehensive career programme supports workers of all ages, providing them with skills and development training.

In addition to initiatives, hospitality businesses can promote age diversity and inclusivity by ensuring that their employment policies and practices are age neutral. Conducting a thorough audit focused on age equity can help identify and eliminate any age-related biases in internal and external policies, processes, and communication. Establishing such age-neutral practices will foster a positive work environment from the top-down, promoting inclusivity and equality at every level of the business.

With staff shortages as high as 21% for roles such as production chefs, the hospitality industry should leverage age diversity practices to fill vacancies and enhance their skills and development training.[5]

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Clear career trajectory

Over-50s are more likely to take their roles in hospitality seriously and perceive them as avenues to engage with their community and contribute positively. This sentiment is supported by a study conducted by the Department of Work and Pensions, which found that on average, older workers have higher job satisfaction and wellbeing.[6]

In contrast, many individuals in the UK do not view hospitality as a lasting career option. Only 5% of young adults in Britain contemplate pursuing a career in this sector, while a significant 55% perceive it as merely a temporary position.[7] To alter this perception and establish hospitality as a viable long-term career choice, UK businesses can draw inspiration from Europe, where hospitality roles carry considerable professional weight.

Implementing initiatives for professional growth, such as formal training programs, apprenticeship schemes, and pathways for career advancement, can enhance the esteem of hospitality roles and position them as highly skilled professions. Older workers, possessing industry-specific expertise, a strong work ethic, and a deep sense of pride in their work, serve as role models for younger colleagues. Their mentorship and efforts in upskilling younger employees contribute to reshaping the perception of hospitality, encouraging the younger generation to view it as a serious and rewarding profession.

To ensure a more sustainable future and age diversity, it is important to foster a culture of inclusivity and respect in the workplace. This approach acknowledges the valuable contribution of older workers in addressing the hospitality sector’s labour crisis. By leveraging their decades of experience and skills, older employees play a pivotal role in driving lasting and positive changes within the industry.









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