President’s Column: Changes in the Workforce

President’s Column: Changes in the Workforce

By Anthony Anton

The days of a readily available workforce are gone. Like it or not, getting 50 to 70 applications in response to a single job posting is probably a thing of the past. Changing population patterns, Boomers retiring en masse, competition from other industries, the crackdown on immigration that started several years back… all of these trends are putting a squeeze on available workers.

This fact, together with a higher minimum wage, is one of the reasons we have to work out a new business model. And as we work on our new model, we should be asking ourselves how we will address worker development and worker loyalty. If we don’t focus on the success of our employees, we just aren’t going to have enough people showing up, and we can’t provide great hospitality without them.

Many companies are already doing an excellent job on this front, and the benefits they provide employees are providing paths to help these employees help themselves. By focusing on helping workers expand their skills and education, these companies in return attract great employees who are invested in creating a better future for themselves. They do better at work, becoming more efficient every day and more loyal to you for believing in their future.

While I wouldn’t yet call this a broad trend, truly investing in our workforce for their education and skill development is another intriguing development.

Education —  Here in Washington, Dick’s Drive-In has a long tradition of providing college tuition assistance for its workers. Other local and national stakeholders now also have educational initiatives. Starbucks employees can earn college degrees from Arizona State University’s online program tuition-free, and Chipotle now has a four-year degree program.

Training — With McDonald’s massive investment in technology, both in kiosks and in app ordering, they are now actually training their workers to be “OTPs” or onsite technical professionals. There will be three levels of OPTs, and I’m told that an OTP 3 should be able to walk into any retail company and be their tech expert. This should be a huge attraction to ambitious employees.

It’s important to recognize that this technological change is coming. We may not have people at the counter anymore in quick service restaurants, but we’ll have professional technical people working onsite so that when a kiosk goes down or a system order has trouble they can act immediately to start fixing it.

Flexibility — I was in Bellingham recently and heard about a crew at a local brewery that has figured out a server rotation that gives workers three-months a year to pursue what they love. Some are adventure seekers who head down to South America, another group is skiers and another is students. They keep coming back because this job lets them live exactly the life they want to live.

Some of these ideas are new to the industry. Some of these ideas are old staples. Worker flexibility has long been valued by employees in our industry. Flexibility allows them to pursue an education or to cultivate a special talent or interest, or to simply live a less restrictive life by giving them more control over their work hours.

As one of my counterparts at another state association is fond of saying, when we hire an employee we are making an investment, not unlike being an investor in a start up. We believe in their abilities and in hiring them, we’re offering start-up capital to help them get to where they want to go in the future. Offering benefits like tuition credits, flexibility or on-the-job training may be what the most promising start ups require.

I think that’s a good mindset to have as we revamp our business model because labor costs will continue to be our biggest investment in our shared success.

(Source: Washington Hospitality Magazine, August 2017)

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