Bridging the Gap: The Vital Role of Education in Resolving the Skills Shortage within the UK's Hospitality Industry
By Lisa Wyld, Head of School, Missenden Abbey International Hotel and Hospitality School
As an academic immersed in the realm of hospitality, I find myself at the intersection of tradition and innovation, where the rich tapestry of the past meets the dynamic potential of the future. The hospitality industry in the United Kingdom, steeped in heritage and globally renowned, is currently facing a pressing challenge: a significant skills shortage. The United Kingdom's vibrant hospitality industry delivered a staggering direct Gross Value Added contribution to the UK economy of £93bn in 2022, or £214bn including indirect / induced impact which equates to around 9% of the total UK economy. Employing more than 3.5 million people, it’s the third biggest industry in terms of employment in the UK (UK Hospitality, 2023) in which a pressing challenge looms large: a pronounced scarcity of skilled professionals. As I straddle the spheres of the industry and academia, I am convinced that the synthesis of education and industry holds the key to unravelling this complex conundrum and driving the industry toward an era of sustainable success. It is evident to me that education stands as the lynchpin that can unravel this complex issue, fostering a skilled workforce and providing the leaders of the future.
The Pertinent Challenge
The skills shortage that the UK's hospitality industry grapples with is far from a mere statistic; it's a palpable reality that requires immediate attention with vacancies 72% higher in hospitality than pre-pandemic levels (Gov.uk, 2023). The ongoing growth of the economy, coupled with the nation's allure for international tourists, has led to an unprecedented demand for exceptional hospitality services. Yet, this burgeoning demand is met with a noticeable shortfall of proficient professionals across diverse roles – from culinary artisans and hospitality managers to event organisers. Misconceptions further complicate matters, with some perceiving the industry as offering limited prospects for career advancement and financial stability.
The Crucial Role of Education
For me, an academic rooted in hospitality education, the path toward resolving this quandary is clear: a harmonious synergy between academia and industry. As guardians of knowledge and pioneers of learning, institutions of higher education, such as Buckinghamshire New University (BNU), bear the responsibility of nurturing talent that is not only well-equipped with practical skills but is also attuned to the rapidly evolving nature of the field. This is the driving force behind the development of BNU’s Missenden Abbey International Hotel and Hospitality School.
This symbiotic relationship begins with curriculum evolution. It's essential for academic institutions to collaborate closely with industry insiders to craft curricula that reflect the current industry dynamics while anticipating its future demands. A curriculum moulded by industry insights empowers graduates with the right skills and knowledge to seamlessly integrate into the workforce.
Yet, education must transcend the walls of lecture halls. The practical component cannot be overstated. Hands-on training, internships, and apprenticeships are pivotal in cultivating professionals who understand the nuances of their roles beyond theory. This experiential learning not only bridges the gap between academia and industry but also fosters a culture of continuous learning, an imperative trait for an industry in perpetual flux. A philosophy that is at the forefront of the vision of Missenden Abbey International Hotel and Hospitality School at BNU.
Cultivating Soft Skills
Hospitality is as much about human connection as it is about technical proficiency. Soft skills – the ability to communicate effectively, adapt to diverse situations, and empathise – lie at the core of memorable guest experiences. As an academic, I advocate for the integration of soft skills development into the curriculum. Guest lectures, workshops, and interactive projects should seamlessly blend with technical training, nurturing graduates who not only excel in their roles but also forge meaningful connections.
An Academic's Call to Action
The time for transformative action is now and, as an academic, I issue a compelling call to both my academic peers and the industry we serve.
For academia, we need to ensure we have an agile curriculum that evolves in response to the industry's dynamic evolution and collaborate with industry experts to ensure that educational programmes are not just relevant but forward-looking. Programmes need to have the practical immersion that is asked for by industry and emphasise experiential learning through internships, work experience and partnerships with industry establishments to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. We need to recognise the significance of soft skills in the industry and develop curricula that not only hones technical expertise but also cultivates the interpersonal skills that define exceptional hospitality professionals.
For industry, we need to ensure our students are nurtured and a key way of doing this is with mentorship programmes that connect industry professionals with aspiring students. Mentorship provides valuable insights into the industry's real-world intricacies, fostering industry-ready graduates. I’m also urging my industry colleagues to collaborate with academia by providing feedback on graduates' skills and the industry's evolving needs. This ensures that educational programmes remain aligned with industry requirements. At Missenden Abbey International Hotel and Hospitality School, it has been about ensuring that are programmes are relevant to what the industry demands and the need for them to be industry-centric and industry-driven.
As a hospitality academic, I am keenly aware of the transformative power that education holds, and the skills shortage haunting the UK's hospitality industry that, with concerted effort, can be surmounted. By collectively investing in education, we hold the key to unlocking the potential within the UK's hospitality industry. As we nurture skilled professionals who understand the delicate balance between tradition and innovation, we not only address the skills shortage but also pave the way for a vibrant and enduring hospitality landscape that captivates visitors and uplifts communities. The academia-industry partnership is the catalyst for this transformative journey – one that sets the stage for a hospitality industry that thrives and evolves for generations to come. By investing in education, we invest in the industry's future, ensuring its enduring significance as a pillar of the UK's economy and cultural heritage for generations to come. The time for collective action is now – a rallying cry to academia and industry to unite in shaping a resilient, skilled, and thriving hospitality industry.
To continue this conversation, we are holding an event and panel discussion on Bridging the Gap: Education as the Catalyst for Addressing the Skills Shortage in the Hospitality Industry on the 21 September 2023 starting at 5pm taking place at Missenden Abbey, Great Missenden. If you would like to be part of this event, then email firstname.lastname@example.org.