(Upskilling) Your Best Defense in a Tight Labor Market

(Upskilling) Your Best Defense  in a Tight Labor Market

Building your team from within is increasingly important in today’s labor economy, and Washington Hospitality Association Education Foundation is set to help.

By David Faro

We hear it time and again. Finding qualified employees is one of our members’ biggest challenges. With the economy going strong, Washington hospitality businesses are going to face another tight labor job market as we move into high season.

You don’t need us to tell you the importance of retaining promising employees, but did you know that investing in training and skill development may be the best fortification against attrition and lessen your need to hire new employees?

Given that the average cost-per-hire is $4,129, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s Human Capital Benchmarking Report, lower turnover through workforce development will also add direct value to your bottom line.


Of course, you train the people you hire, but are you providing employees with skill building and experience that goes beyond what they need to know and do to perform their immediate jobs? If you are, then you are happily engaging in “upskilling,” or expanding the skills your employees need to be successful in your workplace.

If you’re not, here’s a simple way to think about what upskilling looks like: You have an aspiring, entry-level dishwasher whom you put through a knife skills class offered by Washington Hospitality Association’s Education Foundation. The employee then eyes the lunch prep shift. Now you have lunch back up and the opportunity to move this upskilled employee into a position that may better fit his or her interest when there is an opening.

For hoteliers, the Education Foundation is partnering with the American Hotel & Lodging Education Institute to bring a rich suite of certifications and training designed to help you expand the capacity of your team. Here are some things to take into consideration as you consider investing in skill building.

Boost Retention and Morale

Workers who are encouraged to develop and grow are statistically the happiest. Upskilling solidifies retention. Employees who feel like their company is investing in their future want to stay. Happy employees provide sustainably higher degrees of customer service. Happy customers are loyal customers. It’s a cycle, and upskilling training for your employees primes the pump every time.

Act Strategically

Have a strategic training program in place for your organization. It is important to have buy-in from your whole organization for an upskilling plan to work. That means leadership down to entry level understands the idea and embraces the “why” of the program. That means that every employee has a personal development plan (PDP), and it’s important that this plan is made through a partnership between employees and their supervisors. Actually, it is paramount.

Understanding the career path your employees want to embark on allows you to provide rich incentives for performance. Knowing that you are investing in their personal development as they desire it, breeds deep loyalty in your employees. Each employee should have a current PDP, that they can refer to at any time. This document will keep you steadfast and in alignment with their progression and success.

Make and Take the Time

Without committing the time required to upskill your employees, upskilling is just a noble concept. If you commit to training, you will also need to give employees time to go to classes or attend online courses. There should always be a “what by when” component to an employee’s PDP. Otherwise the best made plans can remain just that. All talk and no action. Upskilling requires that managers make the time. Upskilling requires that employees take the time.

Tap into Employees’ Interests

Once your employee has shared with you the direction they would like to go with their career, help them to identify the certifications and credentials that they think would help place them on a transformative pathway towards career advancement.

For a young line cook looking to become a sous chef, ServSafe Manager might just be the credential that advances them into consideration for the next opening. For a shift supervisor, looking to enter the ranks of management, perhaps financials, or software training would give them just what they need to be the perfect bench manager for you.

In the long run this would mean that when you need a qualified replacement, you have one waiting in the wings, trained, and who already knows a lot about your operations. This person is generally eagerly waiting for the chance to perform. The interview process is shortened. The onboarding process is shortened. The cultural acclimation process is shortened. You just saved a whole bunch of money.

Save Money with Skilled Employees
Last year I had a chance to speak with a successful operator who has all of her line cooks who had been on the job for two years go through ServSafe Manager training. She did this three years in a row, and then saw her food cost ratios improve significantly. Her staff knew how to rotate food correctly and were up to date on all of the other methods that contribute to wasting less food.

Start Upskilling Now

Starting is almost always the most difficult part of organizational change. Where do you start? How do you engage employees? What does a personalized upskilling program look like in your company? The good news for Washington Hospitality members is that the EF is poised to connect your company with all the training and upskilling resources that are specific to your company. The EF is also connected to workforce development partners from all over the state, meaning that the EF can tap into a vast network of training options from Bellingham to Vancouver and from Kent to Kennewick, and then bring them right to you.


Talking about upskilling is one thing, but knowing where to go to find the best training for your staff is another. The first place to start is the Washington Hospitality Education Foundation Training Menu, which can be found by visiting this link wahospitality.org/education-foundation-training-menu.

ServSafe Manager
ServSafe Manager is an advanced food safety certification developed by the National Restaurant Association for foodservice and hospitality personnel. The ServSafe brand allows you to offer the highest standard of training to your staff. It also keeps customers safe with advanced food safety knowledge and complies with the Demonstration of Knowledge (DOK) and Person in Charge (PIC) requirements within the Washington State Food Code.

The Education Foundation offers regularly scheduled ServSafe training classes throughout Washington. For details and a schedule of classes or to register online, visit whaef.org/training.

Social Media Training
Embarrassing photos or confidential information that could harm your business can quickly become public through social media. Can employers prevent employees from sharing inappropriate photos or sensitive company information?

“Being Social Media Smart” teaches employees how to be responsible when representing themselves or their company on social media platforms by covering five main areas:
Being knowledgeable about how public and private networks intersect
Understanding how one person’s posts affect others
Protecting company confidentiality
Learning to identify and avoid sharing dangerous information
Being respectful and never posting things about fellow coworkers or the company without permission

First Aid/CPR/AED
This comprehensive course covers all the basics of first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED). Employers in Washington state are required to have first-aid trained personnel available on all shifts, if the business is not in near proximity to an infirmary, clinic or hospital. Completion of the course provides all the necessary certifications to meet state requirements in a fun and engaging four-hour course.
Customer Service Training
New in December 2017, this program through the American Hotel & Lodging Education Foundation applies seven guest service “golden opportunities” to the broad spectrum of tourism. Video scenarios feature real employees at a variety of tourism venues including restaurants, welcome centers, wineries and ski lodges, transportation and airports to show employees how delivering exceptional guest service makes a real difference for your guests and for your business. Offered online or in print, the training prepares employees for professional certification as a Certified Guest Service Professional (CGSP). Also available in Spanish.

Guest Service Gold® Tourism, like our other Guest Service Gold® programs, can help your establishment stand out in the crowd of tourism choices. Business benefits include:
• Repeated visits generated by exceptional service
• Higher scores in online reviews
• Opportunity to become a Certified Guest Service Property when all line-level employees earn the Certified Guest Service Professional designation

Learn more at wahospitality.org/education-foundation-training-menu.

Thanks to the generous support of private and public partners of the Education Foundation, subsidies and scholarships are often available for your staff to take advantage of.
Contact the Education Foundation today to find out if you or your staff are eligible for assistance. Most people are!

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