‘Brexit really hasn’t helped’, Eastbourne hospitality sector’s recruitment struggle

A number of hospitality businesses in Eastbourne have said they are struggling to recruit new employees following a ‘perfect storm’ of lockdown and Brexit.

Alex Polizzi, who is the host of TV programme The Hotel Inspector, recently spoke about how she has been serving breakfast at her hotel in Alfriston following struggles to recruit staff.

Christina Ewbank, chief executive of the Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce, said, “There are 600 young people in Eastbourne itself who are looking for work at the moment, this is the Jobcentre Plus figures. So it is a question of linking the two up.

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“In hospitality or any business you always find people looking for people with experience but what we need to do is actually look for people with the right attitude and the right approach to customers and customer service and someone with a smile.

Eastbourne pier. SUS-210206-125250001

“Partly we are affected by the fact that a lot of people have not come back from furlough and obviously with Brexit a lot of European workers have disappeared.

“They have gone back to their home countries, so it is creating difficulties for us.”

Lucy Hancock, who runs The Art House in Grove Road, said although she hasn’t struggled to find staff, she believes others have because of Brexit.

She said, “They are short-staffed or can’t get staff or can’t get good staff which is definitely due to Brexit because when the pandemic first hit, obviously everyone went home to their original countries and just haven’t bothered coming back or it is too difficult or too expensive, too many rules.”

Catherine Clifford, managing partner at the Best Western Lansdowne Hotel in King Edward’s Parade and vice chair of the Eastbourne Hospitality Association, said she has lost a lot of staff recently.

She said, “Some of my ex-employees have had a rethink about what they want to do in their lives and they have decided they do not want to be in hospitality.

“Other members of my staff have gone back to their countries because a lot of people in hospitality are actually from Europe.”

Ms Ewbank also spoke about how Brexit and the pandemic have combined to create a problem for hospitality business owners.

She said, “It is a perfect storm because people have been out of work.

“People have been furloughed and to go back to a full-on job once you have been furloughed is actually quite tough because it is so consuming.

“Several people have chosen not to go back into hospitality from furlough which if you couple that with the fact that Europeans have not been coming to the country to take the seasonal jobs, it is making life very difficult for the businesses of the town.”

For the Dew Drop Inn on South Street, assistant manager Sam Picton said the pub has taken a hit as university students have returned home.

He said, “Currently it is quite difficult with everyone going back to university and we do normally rely on university students as they are always really flexible around this time of year.

“I am looking at everyone’s CV that comes through the door and hoping for the best.

“I feel like working in hospitality brings out and also trains your social side in talking to ages ranging from 16 up until 80-odd.”

Another challenge businesses face is that many young people are not drawn to a career in hospitality.

Urban Ground co-founder Andy Spirou said, “I do think it gets a bad reputation because it is not exactly easy and the hours are long.

“I think it is great environment to work in, I think there is great camaraderie.

“If you are a people person it is a great place to be.”

Hydro Hotel general manager Jonathan Owen said he does notice many young staff planning to pursue a career in another field but said it is his job to try and show them the benefits of the hospitality sector.

The Mount Road manager said, “I don’t think youngsters are switched off by hospitality but they may come in and do a season or one or two years but it may not be their end of goal job career.

“They may want to be teachers, they may want to be nurses but they accept that to earn some money from 16 upwards they will do their period of time and work in a hotel.

“It may not be their end chosen career path but it is up to us as hoteliers to then say, ‘Can I change that for you?’ Can I make them want to be a restaurant manager or a bar manager?”

Ms Hancock said it seems that the younger generation are not attracted to hospitality jobs.

She said, “I think young British people have never really been over-attracted to them.

“It is a hard industry. You have really got to enjoy being around people and you have got to work hard.

“It appeals to a certain type of person. It is hard work and I think that a lot of people aren’t used to hard work.”

Despite this Ms Clifford from The Lansdowne Hotel disagreed with the notion that young people are put off by the hospitality sector.

She said, “I have got a brilliant team of youngsters between the age of 17 and 19.

“It is their first job in some cases. They are loving it.”

Ms Ewbank explained how it can be the perfect fit for the right person.

She said, “Basically it is a fantastic career path for anyone who likes to be part of a team, anyone who likes to deal with the public, anybody sociable.

“Chefs are the new rock stars. Chefs are famous nowadays and hoteliers are too.

“It is a great career path and if you go on and run your own business it is great training.

“The attention to detail that people learn in hospitality, dealing with customers, dealing with the public, those sociable skills, they are really important. You can’t teach those.”

In regards to what can be done to help the hospitality industry Ms Clifford said, “I think that the industry needs to make some changes as far as that is going to have an impact on our pay roll.

“We are going to have to see something like a 20 per cent increase in wages which in turn means that the customer is going to have to stomach some of that.

“We need to be portraying hospitality as a good career choice.”

Ms Ewbank said Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce is also trying to address the problem.

She said, “We knew this was going to happen so what we have done as a chamber is we approached the college and the BID and said we have put together a programme to help business find good candidates.

“There is a page on the East Sussex College group which is a job matching service to match hospitality businesses with potential employees.

“Where there are people without experience we are going to run an assessment day where anyone that wants to apply for a job in hospitality or retail can come along to an assessment programme.”

Ms Ewbank said they will not be looking for experience as potential employees can complete a number of exercises and could be invited to an interview from a hospitality business.

The event is set to take place sometime after ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19.