From full-time employees to seasonal help, general managers face an uphill climb when searching for the right job candidates. In the first installment of HNN’s new 5-on-5 series, five GMs address key issues involved in the labor side of the business during a candid discussion.
CHICAGO—HNN editorial director Jeff Higley sat down with five general managers of hotels managed by Hostmark Hospitality Group to tackle five topics affecting GMs everywhere. Each day this week, we’ll feature excerpts from the discussion.
- Keep up with each part of this series here.
How would you describe the labor issue in terms of finding the right hires, labor pool shortage, workforce makeup and dealing with specific regulations?
Brian Cooney, general manager, Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza
“For the fact that we’re in a downtown Chicago market, you know, major metropolitan area, I wouldn’t say that we have a labor shortage—we have a quality shortage. Usually when we post positions, we have no trouble getting applicants …. (Then there’s) vetting through the process and doing the proper interviewing, which we do with multiple levels of managers when we bring in candidates. … We don’t just have one or two people interview the candidates. We prepare ahead of time so that everyone that does the interview process, they’re asking like questions, but then we have some different questions that each of them will pose to the candidates. … Like I said, our problem is not getting people to apply, it’s finding the quality person that’s a right fit for the right position. And we think we have a pretty good process in place and seems to be working well for us.”
Dwight Miyakawa, general manager, Hampton Inn & Suites and Homewood Suites-West Loop (Chicago)
“I was just opening the hotel a couple months back and … our process of going through the interview was bringing a whole crew on, so 70-some employees. … We were looking for behavior, personality, character type of traits, as the foremost dictated who we were going to hire and not hire. … What we found were some of our best hires had … a little bit of experience, but not always in hotels. … We did find that even though some people had great personality, great hospitality, they weren’t necessarily used to the rigors of working in this industry. Some of those people did have to find other alternatives because it really was not the perfect fit. … We did find some great candidates, great people that learned the business very quickly, but inherently they had certain characteristics and traits that fit well for the hotel.”
In terms of that labor pool, and integrating employees into a cohesive workforce, how do you complete that entire process?
Dennis Law, general manager, Holiday Inn Surfside Beach (South Carolina)
“Our challenge is that we’re so seasonal. We hire for a period in the summer—July being the peak—and you’ll find a lot of candidates down there work two jobs, and they’re more than happy to take the layoff and not work. The first year here, I did everything I could to keep people working, and I was asked that question: ‘Aren’t you ready to lay us off yet?’ … We’ve been more successful hiring a personality versus a skill set for the front desk. A skill set we could teach, but we brought people in from banks and supermarkets and whatever. … We were affected this year, and I don’t know how other properties were about the impending (salary vs. hourly pay rule). We had to make adjustments and eliminate (positions) because of the price point we were at; I’ve interviewed people that were displaced because of that law or the possibility of it happening. In doing so, not knowing what’s going to happen in that position, instead of food-and-beverage director, we put out a food-and-beverage supervisor (job posting), and I had 40 applicants for that job. In the past, I think I had six when I put it out as a food- and-beverage director. I changed the chef position to kitchen manager to cast the net a little wider, and I got a whole different group of individuals. So it’s very interesting how just changing the wording of the ad. For the supervisor (position) we got everybody from, you know, a 15-year Marriott F&B director … down to somebody who had worked multiple systems and wanted to move up.”
Mimi, how does seasonality apply in the labor force for you?
Mimi Varchi, general manager, Holiday Inn Cape Cod-Falmouth (Massachusetts)
“Quality is definitely an issue. Getting applicants is not so much the problem, other than they’re not qualified to work in our industry. … From a seasonality standpoint, we go from technically having about 30 associates to 65. We sponsor H2B visa workers. We start that process in October, and we bring in six workers to assist us during our peak season from Memorial Day to November 1. We rely heavily on the J-1 visas that come to Cape Cod and hire them for our peak season, and then we have our core year-round staff that we cross train and keep with hours throughout the course of and remainder of the year.”
So government regulations, participation is important for you?
Varchi: “Extremely important. They have changed the (work visa) program three times over the last couple of years with the requirements of the cap coming into the United States. The first year that I was there, we were eliminated because our petition wasn’t reviewed in time for the cap, so we had to go through a whole separate process of finding people who had worked in the winter and extend them to join our team, which were not our regular H2B visas. … Then it was the same experience this year where they have implemented a cap, so our petition was all set and ready to go. And the lawyer that we work with filed for April versus our regular May so that we don’t run the chance of not having our workers. We’ve gotten very good at going through the process because it’s so very important to us to have them, as local labor is nonexistent during peak season.”
Jacque, how about summing it all up—how is it working from your perspective?
Jacque Raffaele, general manager, Sheraton Milwaukee Brookfield
“We’re in a suburban market about 10 miles outside of downtown Milwaukee. We struggle immensely to find applicants, because everybody (thinks) the money is in downtown. We struggle both with finding the applicants and then the quality of the candidates. The trend that I’m noticing is the candidates that are coming in, the millennial generation, the way that they interact is mobile-based. They look at a screen all day, so the comfort level of them speaking face to face with guests is very foreign to them. It’s very difficult to train somebody on how to have an interaction when you’re used to having these skill sets naturally formed through a person’s life cycle. Now we’ve got this multigenerational work pool where we’ve got people who have been in the industry for 40 years working alongside this new generation, and you’re struggling to find (a consistent guest experience). … We have to learn how to communicate with the new work pool so the experience piece is something they understand based off of their lifestyle.”