Statement from Paul Kelly to the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media

Statement from Paul Kelly to the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media

Paul Kelly, Chief Executive, Fáilte Ireland
Opening Statement Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media.
April 6th 2022
Working Conditions and Skill Shortages in the Tourism and Hospitality sector

Cathaoirleach, Members
Thank you for the invitation to Fáilte Ireland to be here today.
In my opening statement I will highlight some key findings from Fáilte Ireland’s most comprehensive research to date into the tourism and hospitality labour market and I will also outline our work to support businesses in overcoming the current staffing and skills shortages.
But first I want to say a few words about the important role tourism plays in Ireland’s employment history. Tourism has an unparalleled track record of providing a huge range of employment opportunities in communities the length and breadth of the country. From entry level roles to CEOs of major multinational hotel chains and airlines or from General Managers of the world’s best hotels and attractions to Michelin star chefs. The Irish tourism industry can be hugely proud of the role it played in rapidly rebuilding employment after the financial crisis to a high of over 260,000 jobs and we have established over many decades a world-renowned reputation for excellence, quality and service by those working in Irish tourism. This reputation will be critically important now as we compete for workers internationally. I think successive governments and their agencies can also be proud of the role we have played in supporting the industry in achieving this success.
One of Fáilte Ireland’s key strategic priorities is to help build employment in the tourism industry. As part of this, we aim to support the industry to be an appealing and rewarding industry to work in. This part of our remit has never been as important as it is now. The current staffing and skills shortages are unprecedented. However, we recognise that staffing shortages are not just a problem in the tourism sector, there are many sectors of the Irish economy facing this same challenge and tourism globally is also experiencing it. The loss of skilled workers and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff is undoubtedly one of the greatest barriers to the sector’s recovery from the pandemic. Even before Covid19, the tourism industry faced a particular set of employment challenges in attracting workers and retaining them. The closure of the sector on public health advice during Covid19 exacerbated these challenges.
Whilst employers are the drivers of making tourism a truly rewarding and attractive place to work, a cross-sector effort is vital in supporting the industry to address the full scale of the challenges ahead. Fáilte Ireland works directly with industry bodies such as the Irish Hotels Federation to develop sector-specific strategies to make working in the industry more appealing.
Also, through the Tourism and Hospitality Careers Oversight Group, Fáilte Ireland works with industry bodies, Government agencies and the Further and Higher Education sectors to collectively address staffing, skills and perception challenges at a national level. The group’s current focus is the urgent issue at hand – supporting the industry to recruit the staff it needs for the season ahead.
To help inform our analysis and response to both the immediate and long-term challenges, Fáilte Ireland conducted the most comprehensive piece of research ever undertaken into the tourism and hospitality labour market in late 2021 as these challenges emerged. The purpose was to assess the employment landscape within the sector; establish the core challenges inhibiting recruitment and retention; and provide the basis for our work in supporting businesses.
The research was robust. We surveyed 1,000 businesses and 5,000 workers overall including 3,500 within tourism and hospitality. We benchmarked internationally and engaged extensively with the recruitment industry.
Based on our research we estimate that there are 40,000 vacancies across the industry, with one quarter of those at a senior level. The loss of skills is evident at across all roles as one in three workers now are new to the tourism sector. Of the 1,000 businesses surveyed, 30% face closure if recruitment challenges are not resolved. Many have had to reduce their opening hours and / or limit the services they provide. This means revenue opportunities are reduced, which will slow down overall recovery of the sector.
Fáilte Ireland is supporting the industry to fill these vacancies in several ways.
Firstly, we are supporting businesses to access potential staff that are readily available.
Regionally, we are helping the industry to build relationships with further and higher education providers to reach students and recent graduates who are available to work at peak times and become a key part of the seasonal workforce. We are working with the Department of Social Protection to promote the Pathways to Work strategy and improve opportunities for tourism and hospitality businesses to recruit from the live register.
To help ensure a future pipeline of talent and inspire the future generation of tourism, Fáilte Ireland recently launched the first ever industry-wide Transition Year Work Placement Programme to provide tourism and hospitality businesses with a direct link to students looking for work experience placements, which can progress to become seasonal roles. To date, there are over 600 placements available to students across the country.
Internationally, we are also supporting the industry to identify the international markets with most potential for access to workers.
To drive awareness of the variety of roles available, we have already invested over €300,000 in marketing campaigns since the industry reopened last summer. This month we will launch a new multi-platform recruitment awareness campaign with an allocation of €450,000 to promote the unique benefits of working in the industry targeting people ranging in ages from 16 to 60. Our website - which promotes jobs, courses and careers - has been optimised to drive tens of thousands of potential job seekers to live job adverts in the sector.
This is complemented by a range of programmes to build skills and capability for businesses and individual employees, including best practice recruitment supports and a suite of online self-directed professional development courses. This will help to alleviate the pressure on businesses to upskill and train new staff, while also helping employees to develop their own career in their own time.
Regarding working conditions, over 3,500 workers in the tourism and hospitality sector were surveyed covering all sub-sectors, levels, counties and regions.
The views of workers highlighted many positive reasons to work in the sector and over 70% said that they see the industry as a long-term career, with 78% of chefs specifically seeing themselves working in the industry long-term. 70% of respondents enjoy the working environment and 54% showed a strong passion for a particular skilled job - for example 68% of chefs have a real passion for what they do. These are positive findings.
However, feedback on job security, pay and unsociable hours was mixed. Employees’ see pay as a key area that employers need to address if they want to attract and retain staff. On the non-pay side, they say their employers can do more to meet workers’ concerns on work practices, labour planning, job structures and entitlements. Employees are actively looking for flexible working options, which makes it even more challenging for tourism businesses to attract staff.
There are some unavoidable realities of working in tourism. Firstly, globally tourism is a very competitive market, and many tourism businesses must operate on very tight margins which means the levels of pay that are economically affordable in tourism businesses are unlikely to match other higher margin sectors. Secondly, people are not just on holiday between 9 and 5, Monday to Friday, night-time and evening work goes with the territory in many roles. Thirdly the option of remote working in visitor and guest facing roles particularly, simply does not exist.
All of this means that for the industry to attract and keep staff, employees need to really enjoy their work and businesses need to be consistently excellent employers right across the sector.
There are many excellent employers in our sector but there are also some who are not yet demonstrating best practice employment standards. To help improve this situation Fáilte Ireland is launching a new Excellent Employer Programme to help all participating businesses to improve their employer practices and reputation. Businesses will have access to people management training, and the opportunity to become certified as a top employer through an employee survey which will help to drive genuine employee engagement.
In conclusion Cathaoirleach, Fáilte Ireland is working hand-in-glove with the tourism industry to address the immediate recruitment and skills challenges that are inhibiting the sector’s recovery. A central focus for us is on safeguarding the sector’s future prosperity, which can only be achieved through a cross-sector and concerted effort to make the industry a more appealing and attractive place to work. Collaboration with industry is key. Tourism is a building block for regional balance and a critical contributor to social cohesion. It is essential for creating sustainable communities and a significant generator of jobs in regional and rural Ireland. As a critical part of the national economy, only when tourism recovers can there be a nationwide recovery.
Go raibh maith agaibh.

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