The Scandinavian hospitality industry faces increased labour shortage, which poses unique challenges when seeking to hire the right candidates and retain corporate talent.

By Eva Kirstine Brünnich

Labour shortage is a challenge for many business sectors throughout Scandinavia, not least the hospitality industry. A business survey conducted by the Danish industry organisation HORESTA in February demonstrates widespread recruitment challenges. About half of those responding reported having encountered such difficulties over the past year, and they also expect labour shortages to intensify in the years ahead.

A total of 25 percent of the surveyed companies have experienced problems recruiting not just trade professionals but also managerial staff. This also applies in Sweden, says CEO of the Swedish hotel and tourism association Visita, Jonas Siljhammar:

“We face the same picture. We need to get better at attracting young people to the industry and at developing staff skills. At the same time, we are experiencing an employee drain, which necessitates efforts to retain those who enter our industry.

At Scandic Copenhagen, restaurant supervisor Antonio Ricciardi briefs the kitchen staff and waiters about the menu the day. Photo: Peter-Emil Witt

TALENT SPOTTING

With greater opportunities for job-seekers, the hospitality industry throughout the region is losing out. Not least due to a perceived lack of career opportunities among prospective candidates.

There are no academic programmes at Scandinavian universities offering bachelor or master degrees particularly aimed at the hotel sector, which leads bright young students to opt for other more promising careers. Faced with stark competition, major hospitality players in the region have started to develop their own training programmes and recruitment tools to attract and retain talent.

“Attracting bright minds is a challenge, and as demand increases, some of those hired will have more limited qualifications. The kind of talents who make good general managers, restaurant managers or star chefs can be hard to come by,” says Allan Agerholm, CEO of BC Hospitality Group, one of Copenhagen’s leading hospitality providers.

“That’s why we have established an academy where we provide skills development for our colleagues, preparing them for advancement within our organisation,” he adds.

Scandinavia’s largest operator headquartered in Stockholm, Scandic Hotels has addressed the challenges of recruiting the right management candidates by developing an internal training programme. According to Head of HR at Scandic, Lena Bjurner, it’s about developing and retaining the talents that are already in the company.

“The industry is growing fast and there are many different professional groups at our hotels. Attracting talent has become a more difficult market. We are privileged to have attracted lot of people with the right passion and attitude whose talents we can develop at our Scandic Business School.

“We offer training and educational programmes aimed at those who are already in managerial positions and want to develop their competencies as well as those who have the potential to become leaders or specialists within a particular field,” she says.

Scandic was recently ranked by Great Places to Work as Europe’s third-best workplace in the multinational corporation category. Scandic has also previously been hailed as Best Workplace in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. And according to Lena Bjurner, this makes Scandic attractive to prospective candidates.

“At Scandic, we have employees from 120 nations, and each individual with his or her unique personality help create our work culture. We are like a family. We care about each other and bring out the best in each other. We believe in our employees and that gives us a positive reputation. And we are being rewarded with a large increase in the number of applications.”

This focus on employee attitude rather than skills is shared by another of Scandinavia’s leading hotel operators, Nordic Choice Hotels, which is headquartered in Oslo. According to HR Manager Hanne Corneliussen, the challenge lies in spotting talents early.

“The talent in our industry is very diverse. We have employees from all over the world, and we’re not preoccupied with any gaps in applicant CVs, but with personality. We have several examples of employees who arrived without formal qualifications, but who have achieved managerial positions,” she says.

According to Visita CEO Jonas Siljhammar, the hospitality industry is faced with a major marketing exercise in attracting labour. “The industry is very good at marketing itself towards customers, but it also needs to market itself as an employer. There is a challenge with many smaller hotel and restaurant companies,” he says.

“The hospitality industry in Sweden is currently consolidating itself and companies are getting bigger and bigger. That’s why we need to be better at communicating to prospective employees that these jobs are for life.”

And it’s also important to keep in mind that skills requirements will change over the coming five to ten years, he emphasises.

“Competence requirements will be transformed as a result of innovation, digitisation and the automation of a number of workflows. Some jobs will be replaced by others. To which degree is hard to say yet. But the nature of jobs will change,” he concludes.

WHEN EXECUTIVE RECRUITMENT GOES WRONG 

If a company employs a member of the management team who falls short of expectations, this exercise will – as a rule – end up costing the company the equivalent of an annual salary, points out Mette Ravn Arnold, a partner in TN Manpower & Training.

“If you hire a general manager at a salary of DKK 1 million per year, the secondary cost will arise from the one year it takes before a new general manager becomes fully operational. But it’s not just about money, there are also human consequences. Inadequate managerial skills are the most frequent cause of changes in the management team,” she says.

For Scandic Hotels, the recruitment process – both internally and externally – has become extremely important, says Head of HR, Lena Bjurner.

“We go to great lengths when recruiting. It’s important that our managers inspire, build trust, cooperate and are capable of empowering our employees. We compile personal profiles and conduct tests in the recruitment process to ensure that the candidate embraces a Scandinavian value of hiring people for their attitude and then offering skills training,” says Lena Bjurner.

Nordic Choice Hotels has adopted a similar approach, explains HR Manager Hanne Corneliussen. Thorough preparation prior to a job interview is absolutely crucial, she emphasises.

“We continuously strive to enhance the skills of all recruiting managers at Nordic Choice Hotels. The training is both online and off-line, and we have clear guidelines and policies for recruitment and onboarding,” she says. But erroneous recruitment still happens, she acknowledges.

“Those who hire and those who get employed are people. Sometimes the match isn’t quite right, but that doesn’t mean that the person hired isn’t right for a different job in the company. Sometimes you need to reassess,” says Hanne Corneliussen, and adds:

“There are costs involved in recruiting, hiring and onboarding, and recruitment will become especially costly should the same job vacancy need to be repeatedly filled within a short period of time. But although the costs in terms of time and money can be considerable, great personal costs can also be involved if an employee experiences a feeling of failure.

“We as employers have a great responsibility to quality check the information we receive during the recruitment process, so that we choose the right candidate, ensuring we are the right choice for the candidate, too.”

IN SEARCH OF NEW TALENT

The industry is booming and so is employment. This requires the industry to start looking beyond its professional ranks, says Mette Ravn Arnold, partner in TN Manpower & Training.

“There is a lack of openness towards non-industry professionals, which leads to narrow recruitment from the same talent pools. This applies to the managerial level as well as the level below. The hospitality industry entertains a narrative of uniqueness, which leads us to make special demands on our employees. It’s a closed club, not least within revenue management.”

According to Mette Ravn Arnold, the industry should look more at natural traits than professional training in relation to service.

“One could look more at personal competencies than traditional CVs and work-related experiences, such as with PMS systems. Today, many employers look at the professional quality of an applicant’s previous positions. In the future, it will become necessary to adopt a broader perspective,” she says, adding: “Other players within the service industry, such as ISS and Deloitte, have begun showing interest in people from the hotel industry. Perhaps we should look around to see if we could use people from other service industries, too.”

However, according to Allan Agerholm, CEO of BC Hospitality Group, industry knowledge is especially important when it comes to positions such as general manager or restaurant manager, while such knowledge is less relevant when it comes to marketing positions, for example.

“We don’t attract many people from other industries. To manage a hotel or restaurant requires knowing what you are doing. Theoretical training isn’t enough on its own. You need to know something about the trade.

“However, within specialised areas such as sales and marketing this is less important. Many people nurture a dream of opening a hotel, but it soon turns out that they have difficulty delivering when it comes to operational management,” he concludes