How skills-based hiring is cooking up a storm in the hospitality sector
Simon Gomez oversaw the implementation of a skills-based hiring programme at one of the UK's most popular restaurant chains. He explains why a skills-first approach is so important for recruitment in the sector, and shares advice about embedding a skills-based hiring process.
The global skills crisis is the culmination of many factors. For instance, the digital revolution is dramatically changing skill requirements, at a pace that organisations are struggling to keep up with. Meanwhile, an ageing workforce in many Western nations means that a growing proportion are now reaching retirement without employers having the skills to replace these experienced professionals.
The situation has also been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some older professionals that lost their jobs during the pandemic simply decided to never come back to work, with estimates suggesting that as many as 2.1 million workers in the US alone decided to take early retirement. And for the hospitality sector in the UK, Brexit has also been a contributory factor.
“Prior to the pandemic and Brexit, about 35% of the workforce was European - predominantly Eastern European - working 40-60 hours a week, no questions, no problem,” notes Simon Gomez, a Talent Consultant at GMZTAlent who recently led the implementation of a skills-based hiring programme at one of the UK’s most popular restaurant chains.
“Fast forward to 2022, and that figure was more like 15% European - and now it is about 3%. So we had to backfill with the UK workforce. But of course there aren’t many people that have done these jobs.”
Therefore, school leavers represent a big opportunity for the hospitality sector, according to Simon. “They may not want to go to University, so they may see apprenticeships as an opportunity. And that’s where organisations in the hospitality sector can help.”
But there is an obstacle to the recruitment of this inexperienced demographic - the mindset of the managers.
The reality facing businesses from all sectors - not only hospitality - is that if you are unable to recruit skilled talent with the credentials and experience that you’ve historically used to identify capable candidates, you need to widen the talent pool and look for other indicators of hiring success. However, attempts to recruit outside of the typical candidate pool have been met with scepticism by some.
“If they’re looking for a Sous Chef, a Head Chef will look at a CV and if there isn’t experience of being a Sous Chef previously then they will say they are not right for the job,” says Simon. “If you go to the junior end of the scale - for instance, the Line Chef - you should be able to train them. But again, there is a mentality where they won’t be considered if they haven’t worked as a Chef before.
“So there’s a battle of trying to change those mindsets. And for me, that’s why the skills-based approach is really important.”
Why skills-based hiring?
Skills-based hiring enables organisations to identify candidates that may not possess the traditional credential or experience, but that have the essential skills to be a success in a particular role.
Skills-based hiring starts with a rigorous understanding of the hard and soft skills required for specific roles, ideally gleaned from multiple sources - Spotted Zebra, for instance, utilises sources including manager surveys, employee surveys, industry data, job specifications and even the input of an occupational psychologist to identify not only the skills required but also the granularity of those skills.
With these skills identified, job advertisements can focus on skill requirements rather than qualifications and job history. The subsequent interview process seeks to validate applicant skills via assessments, self-evaluation and skills inference. This recruitment method ultimately allows businesses to make data-driven, skills-based recruitment decisions, so that if they need to widen the talent pool they can still recruit with confidence.
And in fact, research by the CIPD indicates that skill-based assessment tests are even better predictors of performance on the job than traditional approaches.
For Simon Gomez it was also part of a bigger initiative designed to deliver greater consistency and drive improvements in hiring results, embedding the assessment selection process and materials into a new Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
“When I joined, only 3% of recruitment was managed by my team, so we didn’t have visibility of how 97% were being recruited,” he explains. “What we tried to do with the new ATS is provide more structure and consistency to the process. And more importantly, we're trying to score the recruitment process to start to correlate that if someone scored really well in the selection process we can see whether it then materialised into a good hire and whether they then went on to become a high-performer.
“The aim is to correlate what good looks like so that it is possible to predict that they will be a good hire for the business and more importantly identify our high-performers for the future. That way it is possible to keep an eye on them when they come into the business and put them through a high-performing learning programme that supports them to maximise the opportunity of them becoming a high-performer and future leader.”
Skills-based hiring tips and advice
Despite being a large brand, getting buy-in for the skills-based hiring project was straightforward, explains Simon. “In the summer of 2022 we conducted a skills-based assessment review, including Spotted Zebra, in the hope of getting a project off of the ground. But at the time it was felt that there were other priorities and we should revisit it in 2024.
“However, in March 2023, the Chief Executive asked me how we are assessing our ‘fab three’ - General Managers, Assistant General Managers and Head Chefs - and I told him I believed that the assessment needed more consistency and structure. And once I’d shared that we had already conducted a skills-based assessment review the year before, it was agreed we should go ahead as we wanted to make sure that we bring the right leaders into the business. So I didn’t have a battle to get it off the ground.”
Nonetheless, Simon does have advice for those HR leaders that may need to put more effort into winning support for skills-based hiring.
“The CEO is switched on - he was previously the People Director. But I appreciate that it might be a harder sell with some executives,” he notes. “So I would recommend spending time engaging the executive leadership with the partner - with Spotted Zebra, for instance - and getting along to events.”
With skills-based hiring, you don’t need candidates to go through a three or four or five stage process.
And buy-in isn’t solely required from senior leadership either. Simon recommends that organisations spend time explaining the benefits and processes to the Recruiting Managers themselves.
“People can sometimes be a little bit resistant to change, and so it’s about how you support them through that change,” he notes.
“Towards the end of the process, Recruiting Managers sometimes want to add additional steps in. But they don’t need to put the candidate through any more hoops - the Recruiting Manager receives a report after the assessment that tells them what they need to know, so they can just focus on the outputs of that.
“So that’s a conversation that sometimes needs to be revisited, but it’s important because you’re trying to drive down the time-to-hire and improve candidate experience, and with skills-based hiring you don’t need them to have to go through a three or four or five stage process like they would have done, once upon a time.”
Therefore, for a sector experiencing its share of skills challenges recently, Simon Gomez believes that skills-based hiring may provide the perfect recipe for recruiting success.
“What it’s really going to give you is the science that tells you who is the person to hire, and who is going to be a high-performer in the future,” he concludes.