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Published on Thursday, February 6, 2020

'Jane from Bermondsey' isn't as good as EU workers, says travel MD

Tourism businesses are calling for the Government to help solve the skills shortage in the industry, which has been struggling to recruit skilled staff, particularly those with foreign languages since the Brexit referendum in 2016.

In a recent survey of UKinbound members, more than half said staffing was a major concern.

Kelly Strong of Strong Recruitment told the UKinbound conference that people stopped coming to the UK to look for work after Britain voted to leave the EU.

While she acknowledged there has been a slowdown in the number of under 30s leaving, she said there was still a 'huge' decline in job applications. "When I posted a job, I used to see 1000 applications, now you're lucky if you get three to 10; there's been a significant drop from the day Brexit started," she said.

Speaking at a round table event for industry CEOs, Strong said that many companies had re-positioned jobs elsewhere in Europe, which was partly due to high rents in London. She said the skills shortage had had also been compounded by other businesses, such as technology firms, paying much higher wages than travel.

Visit Aberdeenshire's Chris Foy said this was a problem for hotels recruiting chefs, who can earn more 'in a pie and mash shop' than working in a five-star hotel, while Kathryn Davis of Destination Bristol said the comparatively low wages were also an issue for hotels recruiting house keepers.

JAC Travel's Karen Robertson said her firm had been forced to open a base in Romania to recruit multilingual graduates. "That is what we have had to do to facilitate demand," she said, adding that the company has also continued to employ staff who have opted to return to their native countries. "It's not ideal because then we have people all over the place," said Robertson.

Delegates attending the round-table said there's a need for more languages to be taught in schools. Amanda Lumley of Destination Plymouth said: "Less than 1% of A-level students in our area are studying languages, that is terrifying."

Kyle Haughton, MD of City Cruises said that, in the short term, the lack of European workers to plug the skills gap will lead to higher prices. "Years ago I employed people from Europe, now it's Jane from Bermondsey; she won't turn up on time, she doesn't speak languages, but I will have to pay her more.

"The Government needs to fix things today for 10 to 15 years time."

However, Lumley said that, in her area, most of the schools are academies and so no longer under the control of the local authorities. "And they don't play together, so you have to visit all of them - but there aren't the resources."

Giles Smith, deputy tourism director in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "There is a lot of work under way, focusing on apprenticeships," adding that his department was 'continuously in the market for evidence' to feed back to the Government. 

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