Female hotel housekeeping worker

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Integrating migrant workers

Migrants are playing an increasingly significant role in providing the UK hospitality industry with a skilled workforce in areas where local populations are unable to provide the necessary staff.

A report last year by People 1st, an industry skills and workforce development charity, revealed 26% of the hospitality industry is made up of migrants – up from 23% in 2009.

Martin-Christian Kent, executive director at People 1st, said: “It’s a simple fact that without migrants working in our industry, we would have far greater skill gaps and skills shortages that we currently do. In fact, our industry is the fourth largest employer of people from abroad, with 6% of all migrants in the UK working in hospitality.”

The report says migrants can offer a solution for hotel and restaurant owners because they are often perceived as being more flexible in accepting shift work than British workers; generally have better soft skills; and are more willing to accept lower pay, which can be high in comparison to what they might expect in their homeland.

While migrant hospitality workers are generally centred around larger cities, the trend is also apparent in rural areas and this can pose a challenge for employers who want to play a role in helping to integrate them into local communities.

NFU Mutual business expert Georgina Thomas said: “Rural areas often see younger people leave their hometowns and villages in order to seek out career opportunities in larger towns and cities. This can leave hotel and restaurant owners with a dwindling pool of candidates to fill roles so turning to the migrant market can make good sense.

“But this brings with it the challenges of having a significant proportion of staff who have to deal with language barriers, isolation from major centres, and a lack of local services. On the other side, the local community may feel tensions with what they perceive as people coming in and taking local jobs while adding pressure to services such as public transport and schools.

“It is therefore in the interests of rural hospitality employers to help integrate their staff as quickly and smoothly as possible.”

Bridging the language barrier

Providing English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses for workers can be done in the workplace itself or through local teaching providers. Learning English reduces communication difficulties and has been shown to lead to higher productivity and retention rates, as well as promoting integration outside work.

Other options include using a ‘buddy system’ where new or inexperienced migrant workers are paired with experienced staff, or asking an employee who speaks good English to act as an interpreter.

Providing a helpful 'welcome pack'

A welcome pack containing information about services available in the local area should be a useful part of any induction process.

A worker from overseas moving to a remote location will need access to public transport, health and possibly education services and providing this information will send a positive message from the outset.

Addressing accommodation concerns

Because migrant workers tend to accept lower paid jobs, and because of the scarcity of accommodation in rural areas, employers who can provide affordable staff accommodation will be a more attractive option.

This is one less thing to worry about for a migrant worker coming to a new country although offering staff accommodation can run the risk of creating a divide between staff and the local community.

Taking responsibility or offering assistance in finding suitable accommodation for migrant workers will contribute to helping them settle quickly and encouraging them to stay for longer periods.