People 1st, which describes itself as “workforce development charity”, has published a report which suggests that employees in the UK’s tourism and hospitality sector are significantly less productive than their counterparts in other industries.

Per employee, the charity says, each member of the sector’s workforce contributes only £21,600 to the industry, 53 per cent lower than an employee in the retail sector at £46,000, 39 per cent lower than someone working in construction (at £35,000) and 58 per cent lower than a manufacturing worker, at £52,000 per head.

As a result, the sector’s annual £46.5 billion contribution to total UK productivity is significantly less than in comparable industries, and People 1st wants tourism and hospitality businesses to share ideas to improve the situation.

So far, so laudable. However, the charity’s report overlooks a number of key sector-specific issues, many of which are more acute in Dorset than they are in, say, Hampstead or Hartlepool.

First, our industry doesn’t lend itself to classification as a single “sector”. The challenges facing a pub on Poole Quay or a visitor centre at Corfe Castle are very different from those facing a pub in London’s Covent Garden or the visitor centre at Edinburgh castle.

Secondly, our industry is highly seasonal. Tourism businesses, desperate to recruit extra staff in July and August, are already looking to cut payroll costs as the clients drift away. By mid-January, many will consider shutting up shop altogether.

Thirdly, our industry is top-heavy – to put it mildly – with small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While the big hotel, restaurant and pub groups can offer management training courses and the like, the average family-run B&B simply can’t provide the same career progression opportunities.

That said, the People 1st report does suggest that tourism and hospitality businesses could make more use of older workers and those returning from maternity leave – those with industry experience, but who are unable or unwilling to commit to full-time employment. It’s that kind of thinking that our “sector” so desperately needs.

Years ago, the general manager of one of London’s first boutique hotels struggled to find housekeeping staff – until he took his infant daughter to primary school. There, in the playground, he found a crowd of young mums who desperately wanted to work, but only during school hours. Which, as any hotelier knows, is exactly when housekeeping staff are most needed.

Tourism and hospitality can be a glamorous industry, and it attracts a great many personable young people with aspiration and ambition. It’s not that the workforce doesn’t deliver, it’s the sector itself.

Of course we should bring in – and bring on – young entry-level enthusiasts. What the industry should not do is take them on only to dash their hopes just a few weeks or months later.

People 1st is right. Productivity is an issue. However, it’s an issue for employers rather than employees.

Editor’s note: For further information, please contact Simon Scarborough on 07801 571357 or at simon@assuredhospitality.co.uk.