Investing in Workforce Development Shouldn’t Stop, Especially in a Tight Labor Market

Promotion - advancing hospitality careers - Peggy Berg

The hospitality labor market is tight, and it’s getting tighter. Wages continue to rise, top talent is already locked down, and available candidates have fewer required skills. A recent HotStats report showed wage costs per available room were up 4.5 percent year-over-year, while revenue per available room (RevPAR) struggles to keep pace. The gap is getting wider now and it’s not likely to slow down soon.

The hotel industry currently employs approximately 8 million workers, while 9 million jobs are available. Filling that million-job gap would have a huge economic impact but justifying the labor costs to fill those empty positions can be difficult. The reasons include: the hotel industry has experienced the longest run of strong, positive industry metrics in its recorded history; the majority of the service-related industries nationally are seeing strong job and wage growth; and increased attention on immigration enforcement has dramatically decreased the availability of low-wage workers. All of this means that hiring, training, nurturing, and retaining talented employees is going to be critical to a hotel’s success.

Attracting the Right Team

Every employer in every industry wants to know how to find the right candidate for the job. Younger generations in today’s workforce have made it clear: They’re not seeking life-long stability at one company like their parents may have pursued. Slow, steady growth within a single organization isn’t the path they’re following. Job-hopping millennials think they’re more likely to earn a higher wage, put their career on a faster track, and find a more fulfilling, enjoyable fit in the work culture by changing jobs more frequently.

A workforce that is eager to move from employer to employer makes it difficult to create a deep bench of talent to fill management positions as they open up. Successful hoteliers are those who are able to attract loyal, talented, and reliable candidates, so they don’t have to worry about the siren call of the open market. Their secret to finding and keeping valuable employees is simple: solid, defined workforce development.


At its core, workforce development is training people in a way that helps them acquire skills that enhance their value in the workplace. Workforce development begins with recruiting the right people with a service mentality to join a company at positions commensurate to their skills and experience. As they grow and develop their skills, promote them to positions of greater responsibility, which enhances the company’s value proposition and overall profitability—a win-win solution.

For hoteliers, the ROI on workforce development is far greater than for the average employer. Success in hospitality is driven by an engaged, ambitious workforce that finds at least part of their daily reward in serving others. This industry thrives when guests experience the warmth created by a successful service encounter. Those moments only happen when teams are engaged and embrace the importance of their role. Companies that consciously develop a talented team of outgoing, service-oriented individuals are delivering an outstanding guest experience that drives their bottom line and provides the workforce with a highly rewarding experience.

Equipping the workforce to be successful employees is one thing. Keeping them on a hotel’s team is another. While wages and benefits packages are often seen as the primary selling point for job seekers, there’s more to consider to retain this new workforce.

Teachable candidates aren’t going to settle for just any job. They’re looking for a place where they can truly grow, feel like they are part of something bigger, learn new and valuable skills, and improve their own self-perception. The best workforce development programs will always include an inward-looking view of the company, management’s vision of how the company makes the world better, and how the employees execute that vision. Through training and development, hoteliers have the opportunity to create that same vision in individual team members. After all, success in hospitality is built one guest experience at a time.

Developing Team Members Into Managers 

The best and brightest in a growing and successful operation don’t want to simply book reservations and answer guests’ inquiries; they want to be a part of something bigger and more meaningful. It’s critical to communicate the hotel’s vision and show why a team member’s efforts matter.

Every hotel has a story. It’s more than a place to sleep for the night. Define that story and make sure the team feels invested in it. Without them, the story’s over.

Each team should have a clear idea of what success looks like at the hotel. Look for the employees who consistently stand out; as the business grows, or as senior employees transition out, they can fill open management roles. In addition, talk to the team about how to prepare for those future roles.

When managers see how they benefit from workforce development, they internalize its value and pass it on to the next wave of employees, defining the workplace’s culture.

It’s also important to continue to identify ways management can grow, such as:

  • New responsibilities
  • Participating in industry events and conferences
  • Having a small role in corporate leadership events
  • Developing a formal executive mentorship program

In this new workforce, continual investment in employee growth is going to be the key to retaining talented team members.

How an Expert Can Help

The majority of businesses today never get to the point in their development where they can truly focus on crafting their vision, writing their story, identifying skills, mapping out career paths, and planning compensation. Often, organizations feel the weight of transactional burdens and are forced to deal with distracting details that prevent them from focusing on strategic growth.

A strategic partner, such as an HR expert, can help identify where to obtain HR talent within an organization and develop road maps for successful recruiting and retention. A hotel’s HR team can very likely benefit from an outsourced partner to help develop a sustainable workforce development program with a clearly defined ROI. Having more time to focus on developing and acquiring valuable talent, and spending time on the critical task of implementing and sustaining workforce development programs, can be used to a hotel’s advantage in this increasingly tight labor market.


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Bob Adams founded Adams Keegan in 1987 and currently serves as the hotel practice leader and a Director of the company. He previously served as President and Chief Executive Officer (1987-2000) and Chairman of the Board of Directors (2003-2014). He served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Employer Services Assurance Corporation (ESAC), the industry's self-regulating accreditation organization, until 2020 and has served as a member of the ESAC Board since 1998.