Train 'em yourself

Don’t expect to hire service-ready staff, warns Tony Eldred, encouraging businesses to train in-house for the best results.

The whole hospitality industry seems to be bucking basic mathematics at present by assuming other businesses will train line staff who can be lured or poached when they have gained experience. The reality is that the hospitality industry has expanded extremely rapidly and there are just not enough experienced staff to go around.

To compound this lack of experienced staff, those who are in the job market are likely to be either chronically unstable or problematic in other ways. Most of our clients are doing whatever they can to hang on to their good staff in full realisation of the difficulty of replacing them if they leave.

I am at a loss to understand the reluctance of many businesses to train people from scratch. I started my career in hospitality many years ago in the fast food industry where almost all staff had never worked anywhere before. My experience is that, given astute recruitment for personality and attitude, newbies to the industry were quite easy to train. Not knowing any better, they simply did what they were taught to do.

The problem with experienced staff - even if they have worked in good places – is that their experience seldom corresponds with your way of doing things, and you then face the difficult job of 're-programming'.

In my experience, this compounds the difficulty of training and requires consistent supervisory follow-up over a relatively long period of time. It is often cheaper and easier to get consistent performance out of inexperienced staff than it is with people who are set in their ways.

We often get lip service regarding the need to set up thorough training systems from the management attendees in our training workshops, but very few actually do anything about it. Those same people are often burning large amounts of time and money in the quest for that mythical staff member who walks in the door knowing how to do everything.

I used to think that the reluctance to train from scratch was just managerial laziness (and that is probably a reasonable observation in some cases), but I’ve come to realise that there is a more legitimate reason than that. The conducting of line staff training is normally the responsibility of supervisors, and as the industry has become tougher and more competitive, they haven’t got the time to train people.

To get around this problem we have learned to create a part-time training position below supervisors we call ‘departmental trainer’. It’s a part of the development to supervisor: when a staff member indicates the ambition to climb the ladder, we start them on the journey as a trainer on the assumption that if they can’t train, they can’t climb the operational ladder, because all positions above line staff require you to get performance from other people.

The departmental trainers take part of the orientation/induction of new staff and develop and present training modules, gradually moving towards a systemised training process for all common job roles. Each successive person in the role moves your business further towards a comprehensive training system via the population of a departmental training manual that

contains logically organised training modules for all common job roles. A thorough training system is a big project that is best tackled in bite sized steps, over a period of time.

The penalty for inaction? Well, the job market is not going to get any easier in the foreseeable future and those good staff who are available will probably demand more than it is wise to pay them. The other choice is to suffer the inevitable decline in standards and profitability that comes with working with people who are less than ideal. 

Tony Eldred operates Eldred Hospitality Pty Ltd. ‘The Hospitality Management Specialists’. Contact him on 03 9813 3311 or