The jobs paradox

The jobs paradox

If there are large numbers of young people out of work, then why are major employers struggling to fill positions? Peter Ducker FIH, chief executive, Institute of Hospitality, reports.

In a recent Financial Times article, David Fairhurst, chief people officer at McDonald’s Europe, warned that we face a future of stunted growth unless employers do more to bring marginalised groups such as young people and older workers into the labour force.  Fairhurst said McDonald’s is already starting to feel the effects of what he called the ‘workforce cliff.’

“The workforce is shrinking at both ends of the spectrum,” he told the FT. “There aren’t enough young people coming into the labour market and too many older people are leaving it.”  His comments coincide with a report by the European Commission that says that after 2021 the European workforce is set to shrink by about 0.5% each year.  This represents a serious threat to economic recovery and in particular the labour-intensive travel and tourism sector which is forecast to continue growing in the coming years.

But hang on.  Why is McDonald’s unable to attract the necessary staff when there is high unemployment across Europe, particularly amongst the young? In the UK, for example, 14.2% of 16 to 24-year-olds are known as NEETs (not in employment, education or training).

One answer may be that people, whatever their age, simply do not want to work for McDonald’s.  But then recruitment problems are reported by companies of all types. In London, for example, there has been an explosion of new luxury hotel openings in the last few months, requiring hundreds of new personnel and creating staff shortages for existing businesses.

So where does the problem lie?  Many in our industry think it lies with young people themselves because they don’t have the same work ethic as previous generations.  In a survey on the Big Hospitality website, the largest number of respondents (41%) placed the blame with young people, compared to 20% who thought business owners needed to be more proactive in attracting young talent and 17% who thought that our education system was to blame.

The contributing factors to our skills shortages and high youth unemployment are varied and complex. One factor is that vocational jobs continue to be seen as lower in status in rich economies. But blaming young people is not going to help.

From primary-school age onwards, we need to communicate clearly the exciting benefits and huge variety of career paths that our industry offers.  We need to make sure our colleges and universities are turning out graduates with the skills sets that business owners require today. We need to look to the best practice examples of countries like Germany and Singapore, where youth unemployment is low.

Some even argue that youth unemployment shouldn’t be singled out for special attention. This is deeply wrong.  Young people are much better at injecting new and fresh thinking into business activities and are therefore vital to progress and the creation of economic value.  They just need to be given the chance to excel.

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