Are you reluctant to train your staff?

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No humour this month — I’m on a mission. I keep hearing people calling for more training within hospitality and tourism. At the substantial risk of appearing self serving (as my core business is training), I would like to make some comments:

The need for an increase in quality hospitality training on a management level is becoming an urgent priority in Australia. Our industry is expanding at an exponential rate as hotels, etc, are seen to be a reasonable investment and the foreign exchange rate favours inbound tourists. The skills we have in this country are insufficient to cope now, let alone in the future.

Very few companies are devoting more than a token percentage of their annual turnover to training, in spite of Government encouragement. There seems to be a prevailing attitude that if skills are needed they can be obtained by placing an advertisement in the newspaper, or poaching from elsewhere.

It’s getting really difficult to find well trained managers, chefs and supervisors; yet we’re needing them in greater numbers as business becomes more competitive and our margins are shrinking. For example, at the time of writing this my clients need four chefs who can cook, control costs and manage staff to productivity. We’re having real trouble — in spite of advertising nationally. It’s not that we’re not getting a response — we are getting resum?s — but the standard of applicants is depressingly low. The staffing agencies are reporting the same problem.

Some restaurateurs are finding that they face no choice but to accept lower standards because they can’t afford a protracted vacancy in their team. If everyone spent a small percentage of their turnover on training we wouldn’t have this problem. This was the principle behind the Training Levy, but lots of businesses cheated, lots of people whinged, and the scheme failed.

To add to the current problem, it can be risky to train your managers and chefs at present, because you risk having them poached by someone who’s too lazy to train their own personnel. Some of the people I deal with are under constant pressure to go and work elsewhere, and the money they’re being offered is escalating alarmingly. The poachers are only shooting themselves in the foot by pushing wages and salaries up to silly 1980’s levels.

But why are business owners so reluctant to train? Sometimes it’s because they’ve tried it in the past and found that the result was less than satisfactory — they see it as an expense rather than an investment. In many cases the staff they have trained have left their employ before there is a chance for a return. I believe these companies have spent their training dollars at the wrong level.

My logic would suggest that it is futile to attempt to train your staff while you have high labour turnover — it’s like tearing-up hundred dollar bills. Labour stability requires good management, and good management requires training — but we work in an industry where less than four percent of all management and supervisory staff have had anything other than basic technical training.

I am constantly amazed by the number of managers who become indignant at the suggestion that 50% plus staff turnover per year is avoidable. The common retort is that ‘this is the nature of our industry and the people who work in it’. Bulldust! I move around and see businesses with very low labour turnover and figure if they can do it, why can’t others?

When you analyse why those businesses have achieved low staff turnover you nearly always find that their management possess a thorough understanding of the craft they practice. This is simply being professional, and it provides a base on which to build staff performance at the bottom of the pyramid.

Another reason why not many businesses train their management is because there are precious few people who can do it properly, and if you can find someone good it seems very expensive. To train managers you have to have run successful businesses yourself and possess very good communication skills. Successful business managers with very good communication skills require very high salaries. Very few colleges or training schools can afford to pay that much, so management training is often left to academics or teachers who do their best but fail to achieve the desired result. Meanwhile management training gets a bad name. I’d love five bucks for every comment I’ve received about the poor standard of short course training available.

Oh, and while we’re considering the expense of management training, let’s give you something to think about — If you receive training that makes you five percent more effective at the top of your pyramid, what is that going to be worth to your business? You can make money on the deal. Good training is a good investment, not a cost.

We cannot continue to ignore provision of management skills for too much longer without risking a severe decline in our standards. I can only train a handful of managers every year and I’m nearly operating at capacity, and we need lot of them. Our economy is bound to get stronger eventually, and if we see the reverse of the exchange rates overseas travellers currently enjoy, we will be found wanting as a tourist destination. We can only get by without high standards while we are cheap.

Someone once said, ‘its not what you don’t know that causes you problems, it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know’. Unfortunately, a lot of managers don’t know what they don’t know; and until they do, we could be in for a spot of strife.

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