Labour Crunch? Park Hotel Group Shows How To Deal With It

I was introduced to the Park Hotel Group’s HR team last month because they wanted to showcase how they’ve gotten around the labour crunch that many organizations are experiencing, due to new restrictions on foreign labour and other factors.

It was the usual litany of woes: not enough Singaporeans want to work as housekeepers, cleaners, waiters or front desk staff – the entry level vocations in the industry. Or even if there were, there were still staffing issues like rostering round the clock, since a hotel is essentially a 24/7 business.

Thankfully, a very proactive HR management team worked with the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to create a new vocation called the Park Hotel HOST (Hotel Operations Specialist Team). People who were shortlisted and eventually employed under this HOST scheme were generally dynamic individuals looking to work in the hotel industry.

Essentially, a Park Hotel HOST would undergo 7 weeks of training in the areas of housekeeping, food and beverage (F&B) and front office. Once he completes it, he will ride on the full-time roster of 8-hour shifts (7 am – 3pm, 3 pm – 11 pm and 11 pm – 7am).

A typical morning-shift work would begin in the hotel’s breakfast outlet, where he’d be supporting the full-time F&B staff with serving hotel guests. By 10.30 am when the breakfast room begins to turn around for lunch service, the HOST will take an hour’s break before being deployed to the Housekeeping division to help with rooms cleaning for the next 4-5 hours.

An afternoon shift HOST will begin his day at the Housekeeping and after dinner break helps with F&B dinner service at the restaurants. Night shifts will see the HOST multi-tasking at the Front Desk handling Reception, Telephone and Reservations Sales.

The benefits to the organisation are obvious – there are fewer unused man hours because you don’t get as many staff of one department sitting around doing nothing while the other department is going about like headless chickens because they’re too busy.

Plus, cross-training staff in this manner helps the staff member learn and understand the challenges of each department in the organisation. It’s always useful to have a front desk person know exactly what to say and do when a hotel guest says he can’t find the switch that operates the blinds in the bathroom, for example; or if there is a last minute request to make-up a room in the night when the Housekeeping is closed for the day.

Park Hotel Group ensures that personnel in the HOST scheme are remunerated more than a single-skill staff member – not least because there is actually quite a bit more work for a HOST personnel to perform in the same number of working hours. However in return for having more skills and being more productive, the basic pay for a HOST personnel is around $1,800 and he is put on a fast-track career path.

While the scheme is currently open to new employees of the hotel group, the HR department is currently working on allowing current single skill employees to be inducted and trained as well. One employee who was previously single-skilled saw his pay jump 50% from $1,200 to $1,800 because of his higher productivity and triple-skilling, not to mention greater responsibilities.

One would also imagine that such a Progressive Wage Model provides a clear path for career advancement – you’d want to pick candidates for management training from the HOST scheme if you were HR.

It’s amazing that not more organisations are doing what the Park Hotel Group is doing. It’s not as if there isn’t help to get you started. The Group did receive significant assistance from e2i for designing the training schedule, innovation to speed up and make employee’s tasks easier – such as passport scanners at front desk, and a guest bed that rises so the housekeeper (many of whom are older workers) doesn’t have to strain his/her back changing the sheets.

What was also impressive was the fact that the hotel group’s HR department felt that the benefits of these measures taken to improve the skill sets of their staff far outweighed the risk of losing these same staff to other organisations, now that they were so skilled.

More importantly, the staff members I got a chance to speak to were happy employees even though their main gripe was that there really was a lot of work. They did also state that they were grateful for an employer who is forward thinking enough to know that investing in staff reaps real rewards.

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