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Tackling the labour shortage in Sri Lanka's hospitality landscape

Like the rest of the world, the hospitality industry in Sri Lanka is facing a shortage of skilled staff. According to its Hotels Association, the industry is losing 20% to 25% of its staff annually since the pandemic and other calamities in the country - resulting in a lack of skilled manpower to support operations and business recovery. As to how these percentages were arrived at, is unknown and is probably questionable.


On average, when compared to 2022 employment levels, 10% to 20% of the workforce is missing in the sector in the European Union. For instance, the number of unfilled positions in Italy was around 250,000, In France 200,000 and in a smaller country such as Austria nearly 33,000. So there is no denying that, post-pandemic, Sri Lanka’s challenging economic situation is driving away (more than ever before), its skilled hospitality staff to the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Canada and other countries, in search of greener pastures.


The lack of skilled manpower to support operations and business recovery is especially worrying when hotel operators are further burdened to retain existing staff and tackle rising employee turnover. Adding to these woes, the 24/7 nature of it’s’ business and a culture of “face time” presents a common perception of a hectic industry, where a conflict between employees’ work and their family-time exists. Additionally, employees who work irregular shift times, in contrast with those with more standard shift times, experience greater work induced stress.


Efforts made by and large, are limited to publicly disclosing the sector’s contribution to the economy- as to how many dollars it earns as foreign exchange. While it may gratify the government, it simply is not enough.  Very little, if nothing else seems to be done publicly to attract people to join the sector. What can the hospitality industry then do to improve the situation?


People need to be made aware that the hospitality industry:-


  • Facilitates rapid access to a diverse workforce including youth, women and migrant workers.
  • Creates jobs and growth; It is a sector where almost 1-in-3 of the employees are relatively unskilled, compared to the near 1-in-6 in the overall economy, thus denoting that hospitality is inclusive and welcomes people with different profiles and backgrounds.
  • Includes 1-in-6 employee in the industry who are aged less than 25 years compared to 1-in-13 in the overall economy. Admittedly, the population of those in the hospitality sector is far less than that of the total in the economy. Nevertheless, it accentuates the fact that hospitality provides youth the possibility of developing their first working experience within the industry and helps battle youth unemployment.
  • Is inclusive and promotes gender equality; enabling women to join the industry and play a pivotal role in any position in the work place.
  • Open 365 days a year; 24 hours a day, it has opportunities to meet the needs of job-seekers who have other commitments of a domestic and/or educational nature (e.g. students who wish to combine studies with work). In this regard, the industry must provide different working possibilities that support and foster social inclusion, enable personal choices whilst plugging the requisite labour to run their businesses.


Promoting the image of the sector


The industry must inculcate in the minds of the people that employees who work in the hospitality industry are a part of a global environment that develop interpersonal skills and belong to a team that takes pride in looking after its guests. The sense of belonging and being part of a family should be encouraged by the sector. To counter the perception that the industry is a low-paying one, one needs to show how salaries can improve as responsibilities increase, through the years of experience and as one climbs up within the organisation. There are hundreds of hotel managers in the world who rose to that position through the ranks.


Let their voices be heard.


Shafeek Wahab – Editor, Hospitality Sri Lanka, Consultant, Trainer, Ex-Hotelier



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