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Hospitality: Inhospitable for Recruiting?

(March 25, 2008)  "It's hard to get young people to work their way up the career ladder in the hotel industry these days. It used to be that someone without a college degree could start as a bell-hop and work their way up the ranks to the executive level. But things have changed," says Linda Lang, VP of HR for Millennium Hotels.

Lang notes that even with aggressive outreach, it's hard to recruit ethnic minority candidates for middle and upper level jobs. "They seem to associate hotel work just with cleaning rooms and floors," she says. She observes a decline in younger applicants for service industries in general. In Europe, going to a college or graduate program in hospitality management is a high-status choice, but in the US there are only a few notable programs such as those at Cornell and at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Recruitment is thus a major challenge in a big and growing industry. According to the Labor Department, wage and salary workers in the hospitality industry are expected to grow 13.9% by 2016 from 1,833,000 in 2006.

Lang says that the industry benefited from the old system of rising through the ranks. It's a business in which management especially needs intimate understanding of all the occupational roles in the business, from the bottom to the top of the pay scale. As management has become more professionalized, with fewer of its jobs filled by people who once checked in guests at the front desk, the need for formal in-service training has increased.

The great variability among cities in room rates at hotels contributes to the challenge of recruitment. In New York City, a good hotel room can cost $400-$500 per night, while the same room in San Francisco brings only half that amount. But the cost of living in both cities is similar. This makes labor costs a tougher consideration in certain markets.

Lang came to Millennium with a background as a labor lawyer. This has been invaluable in her industry due to its special challenges of compliance with employment laws. Lang sees a great need for ongoing training, and not just for HR staff. As she crosses the country visiting hotel properties, she spends much of her time setting up education for HR and other managers about the "litigation landmines" that abound in the hotel industry. It is hard for hotels to keep in compliance with federal labor laws, as well as the added complexity of state rules, such as the particularly strict regulations in California. It's a challenge to fit food service workers' schedules around the required lunch break and work break rules, the overtime laws. She's signing up managers for online training classes about workplace violence and wage and hour reviews, and how to avoid the many pitfalls in the processes of hiring and exit. Millennium uses the Freeman Group's video and other programs for 12-day trainings for managers in how to train staff about service standards. Freeman's clients are hotels and casinos in the US, with many also in the Caribbean and other countries abroad.

. - Jim Burklo - .

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