Taking back control of our workforce

Chief executive of UKinbound Deirdre Wells addresses the looming threat of a gap in hospitality workers if EU migrants are not guaranteed residency as part of Brexit negotiations.

After months of anticipation and speculation, the prime minister finally pulled the trigger on the starting gun of Article 50, commencing the process to withdraw the UK from the European Union.
Although there is little clarity on what the final outcome of the undoubtedly tortuous negotiations will be, one thing is clear: the ability of our industry to have unlimited access to European migrant workers is likely to be the first casualty of this very diplomatic war.
The concerns of UKinbound members on this issue are clear: with 30% of our employees coming from the EU, we need a solution to this problem, and fast. With inbound tourism set to grow by 8% this year, VisitBritain estimates that we will need an additional 30,000 vacancies this year alone.
Act now
The government needs to act now to guarantee the residency of those EU migrant workers who are already in the UK, contributing hugely to the success of our industry, and without whom our ability to deliver high-quality customer service will be extremely challenged.
While the political debate reigns about when it is best to play this negotiating ‘card’ to best effect, EU workers are left hanging, unsure about their future, often making decisions to leave before they need to, and our industry is suffering as a result.
There has been much made in the press of the use of gaming metaphors in these discussions, but if I was a betting woman, I would lay strong odds on us securing an agreement to allow EU migrant workers to remain in the UK. So I would urge those concerned to hold their nerve in the coming months of uncertainty.
Finding a solution
But even if this agreement is reached, it is clear that we will need a more ‘home-grown’ solution to address the rising number of vacancies in our industry ¬– a reflection of the success of our industry and its continued growth.
This is the time of year when our young people are bombarded with a dazzling arrangement of career options. In addition to the usual college and university courses, and work-place apprenticeships, we now have the new T-levels. What is clear is that students have more choice than ever about which career they want to pursue, and more support than ever to do so.
Why, then, are so few of them are choosing travel and tourism? Frankly, I blame the parents! When thinking about what little Johnny wants to be when they grow up, how many of us have suggested chef or hotel manager or tour operator?
Work experience
Luckily, there comes a point in every parent’s life when your children stop listening to you – as the mother of two teenage sons, that ship has well and truly sailed in my house.
The good news is that one of the single biggest influences on what young people decide to pursue as a career is good work experience. Those who have had a good-quality experience during their business placement are much more likely to work in that sector.
Young people are also, of course, much more likely to listen to other young people. That is why UKinbound has partnered with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to promote the latest #mytourismjob campaign, which asks businesses to upload voxpops by young people talking about their experience of working in tourism.
So, while we wait to see how the EU version of the Game of Thrones plays out, let’s use every opportunity we can to ensure that the next generation make tourism their first choice.