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Using social mobility to tackle staff shortage

Mark Billington
Published Mon, Sep 5, 2022 · 11:13 AM

The hospitality and tourism industry in South-east Asia has traditionally relied heavily on foreign contract workers. But when international borders closed for most of 2020 and 2021, many foreign employees who were made redundant returned home.

According to the Asian Development Bank, the Covid-19 pandemic obliterated 9.3 million jobs in South-east Asia as lockdowns hit the region’s traditional engines of growth such as hospitality and tourism. Employers now find it difficult to rehire these foreign contract workers, even after the reopening of the economy and the borders since late last year.

Before the pandemic, locals were reluctant to take up ‘3D tasks’, named as such because they were dirty, difficult, and dangerous – such as housekeeping and cleaning. Proper modernisation and mechanisation of facilities, and improvement in working conditions and pay are some necessary steps to not only increase work incentives, but also promote equity in terms of benefits among the unskilled and contingent workers.

A more daring and flexible approach to both retention and recruitment from local labour sources should be considered now, where skill gaps need to be remedied especially in the wake of staff shortage.

Enhancing Recruitment Measures

Ronan Harte, CEO of in-house caterer BaxterStorey, shared with ICAEW that the pre-existing skills gap has only grown over the course of the pandemic, and it’s essential to diversify where companies recruit from. Additionally, companies should also promote and share more insights into career journeys, and showcase their offerings of training programmes, the variety of workplace locations and the availability of flexible working hours to entice potential staff for recruitment.

Employers can also use this time to rethink the way they engage and retain new staff and consider ways in which the latest ‘emergency’ recruitment measures can embed diversity and engender social mobility in their workforces. Employers can cast their net wider by looking at their local community, schools, and institutions to build trust and positivity, embark on recruitment public relation strategies, and address skills shortages. Local outreach establishes channels that allow direct dissemination of what jobs are out there and what opportunities are available, especially for those with low digital accessibility.

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Consider Alternative Pools of Recruitment

According to an OECD report, the related school closures due to the pandemic have negatively impacted low performing students who are less likely to benefit from a supportive home learning environment, and are thus at risk of falling even further behind. Employers can consider connecting with schools and present job opportunities to graduating students, especially those who are underprivileged. This can be an alternative route into employment, especially for students who are facing the bleak prospects of being unprepared for disrupted academic years and delayed Higher Education Institution’s entrance examinations, which has proven to be an alarming situation in Thailand as reported by UNICEF and the local media.

Employers can also consider working with their local prisons by setting up training and production facilities within the prison estates. This not only helps to fill an urgent labour shortage within companies, but also serves to enable prisoners to gain invaluable skills and qualifications that will boost their chances of gainful employment after they are released from prison.

The Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP) by the Singapore government supports the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders back into society, by forging partnerships with private companies to set up business operations in prisons. This allows the private companies to provide management, supervision, equipment, and technical expertise to the inmates participating in the scheme.

Companies are now at different stages in diversity and inclusion (D&I) development – including for example bias training, blind recruitment, and reducing pay gaps. Most employers now realise that diversity makes good business sense. One of the fundamental mindset changes demonstrated by ICAEW is that being fair is about realising how someone’s background will affect their ability to take advantage of any opportunity, and to provide the requisite support to close that gap.

Every crisis presents an opportunity, and this current skills crisis presents the window to engender social mobility that has been falling for the past decade. Expanding current recruitment practices by tapping into people from multiple channels and backgrounds, and continuing to invest in training and development to boost recruitment and retention, are some ways in which employers can be instrumental in creating social mobility while tackling staff shortages.

The writer is international managing director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

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