Unpacking 12 New Strategies to Help Tourism Employers Address Labour Shortages

Tourism operators are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain workers. Over the past 17 years, 100,000 jobs were unfilled. These were advertised positions for which tourism employers were unable to find workers, and despite demand, business expansions never occurred because they lacked the workers to deliver on the services. These vacancies accounted for $11 billion in lost revenues.

Looking forward, the sector continues to face a chronic shortage of workers and the competition for labour is increasing both with other industries and worldwide. Another 140,000 jobs are projected to be unfilled between 2018 and 2035. With the growth of tourism in Canada and the targets set out by Canada’s Tourism Vision, an additional shortfall of 60,000 workers is expected by 2025.

Tourism employers are engaging new strategies and changing business practices to respond to the lack of workers. Reduced hours of operation, reduced services, and increased automation are examples of how employers are coping with the shortages and learning to work with fewer staff. To follow are 12 new strategies that can help employers find and keep qualified workers:

1. Embrace the Gig Economy

With the finite number of workers available, especially in rural areas and during peak seasons, employers are hiring freelance workers to complement the core staff at their operations. Freelance workers enable companies to add workers for one-off, periodic, or short-term gigs. These workers can also bring needed skills to augment the services provided by existing employees, helping companies grow in areas where they would otherwise not be able.

Companies working with freelance workers have altered their HR practices, such as increasing training for anchor employees to ensure they have a well-rounded, broad set of skills to deliver on core services, or collaborating with other businesses in the community to synchronize the scheduling of workers that are shared by several employers.

2. Work on Your Human Capital Competency & Capacity

One of the main reasons people quit a job is because their manager is a dud: the manager lacks the skills or tools to effectively support and manage others. Even in small tourism operations, making people management a priority pays off in spades—the investment in skills and tools helps managers be more effective and cope with HR matters.

3. Rethink and Rework Work

The new work order means a new mindset: time to focus on skills and not jobs. Instead of posting ‘Want Ads’ for filling traditional job roles or occupations, there is a movement to seek workers who can perform specific tasks or duties, or for work that requires specialized expertise. This shift includes the segmentation of work: breaking down the tasks and organizing the work around the employee’s skills and interests. In other words, tailoring the job to fit the candidate or worker.

This new mindset looks at every applicant as an opportunity: what skills do they bring and how can we design a job that fits their abilities and interests?

4. Employ Robots (in Disguise)

Automation is not a solution to replacing most jobs in tourism, but investing in the right technology to augment services and aid workers can increase productivity and help extend the types of products or services offered.

5. Increase Heterogeneity

Increasingly, employers are learning how to tap into labour markets they have not traditionally gone after. Diversification strategies help companies broaden their workforce by drawing from a larger pool of workers, many of whom are seeking jobs that fit their lifestyle and are ideal for tourism businesses, such as:

  • New Canadians seeking work experience in Canada to gain a footing in the labour market
  • Retirees seeking casual or part-time work to augment their incomes, maintain social ties, or ‘give back’ by mentoring or passing on their knowledge and experience
  • Indigenous peoples and other under-represented groups in the labour market, who bring a wealth of skills and cultural capital that can enhance the tourism experience that visitors/customers are seeking

Companies are employing new strategies to attract a more diverse workforce: partnerships with immigrant serving agencies, getting involved in cultural and community events, hosting information sessions with the demographic market they are seeking, adapting workplaces to accommodate cultural or mobility needs, increasing training for new hires (including language training), or ensuring work schedules recognize traditional holidays—all are examples that have made a great difference.

6. Work on Retention Strategies

Employee turnover is not inevitable. While some turnover can be expected, poor management and structure can cause turnover levels to be excessive. Better understanding the causes of turnover enables a company to make changes that will mitigate the issue. Turnover affects productivity and employee morale, has an impact on service quality, and is very costly and can result in significant revenue shortfalls.

To reduce turnover rates, tourism companies must first understand the reasons employees leave. The solution to reducing turnover is to address the root causes. For example, are employees leaving for any of the following reasons?

  • Supervisors who provide inadequate support, or are rude or difficult to work with
  • Job did not meet expectations and faced with an unpleasant experience of doing work that is unsatisfactory
  • Lack of skills or knowledge; inability to cope with demands
  • Excessive or unrealistic workloads
  • Poor or toxic work environment; feeling of not being treated fairly or well
  • Being micromanaged and lacking autonomy, especially ability make routine decisions
  • Organizational instability: worry about the financial health or direction of the company
  • Lack of competitive wage/salary or benefits
  • Professional growth opportunities unavailable

Any of the examples listed (and other root causes) can be addressed by improving HR practices, putting the right tools and supports in place, accommodating the individual worker’s needs, and other strategies.

7. Invest in Your HR Brand, Employer Destination

Tourism operators tend to focus on promoting their business as a destination for visitors/customers. The same strategy can be used to promote the business as a destination for employment, i.e. ‘an employer of choice’.

Tourism businesses that take time to define their ‘value proposition’ and leverage their brand can differentiate their job offer over the competition.

8. Make Your Business a Centre of Learning, Life Experiences

Forget about life-long ‘careers’ or the prospect that workers are seeking long-term jobs. Although this is true for many, it’s rarely the case for young people, people in transitions, or those filling jobs that are considered less-skilled.

One the most persuasive reasons for job seekers to accept a job offer is if the company offers a job that will provide a rich learning experience: something that will help ‘build a resume’ and demonstrate they have gained essential experience and skills which are transferable. Investing in training and enabling workers to utilize the knowledge and skills they have gained will prevent them from moving on to other employment prematurely.

9. Boost Productivity

Optimizing the human capital of the existing staff creates a healthier and more productive workplace, and in turn happier workers who choose to stay longer. It starts with assessing the human capital; figure out:

  • How many staff are under-qualified?
  • How many staff are over-qualified?
  • How many have skills that are under-utilized?
  • How many have obsolete skills?

Once a company has a better handle on its human capital, set individual ‘learning plans’ or strategies with each employee, to help them optimize the skills they possess. The learning plan may focus on re-training or upskilling, mentoring, or identifying new career paths or ways to take advantage of unused talent/skills. Boosting productivity is all about aligning job opportunities with staff capabilities and interests.

10. Seek Partnerships, Include Community in Business Plan

Collaborating with education and other community service providers will help tourism employers connect with influencers that help job seekers make employment decisions. Operational or business plans should include strategies and resources to build formal relationships with community service providers.

11. Provide Stability through Predictable Employment

Offering standard work schedules and career guidance creates predictability and enables workers to schedule their lives. This means they can plan on further education or training, coordinate child or elder care, accommodate seasonal employment, and manage work-life balance—all key components of a supportive, sought-after workplace. Knowing there are clear paths for advancement will help retain those with ambitions to stay in the sector, and may also reveal career opportunities to those who had considered tourism jobs as merely a stepping stone to other industries.

12. See Business as a Human Capital Venture

In a sector based on experiences and authenticity, staff can make or break a tourism business. Those who invest in their people—training, incentives, perks, opportunities for advancement, safety, diversity—reap what they sow. Employees who feel valued and supported will remain committed to a business; their genuine desire to work there will be felt by guests and augment the overall customer experience. Additionally, word-of-mouth referrals factor strongly into recruitment—a solid reputation will encourage top talent to seek opportunities to work with the business and assure entrants to the workforce that the business is a perfect place to learn and grow.

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