A long-term solution to staffing shortages

Donna Catley, chief people officer at Compass Group, discusses the launch of its new Academy, the repositioning of opportunity needed in the industry, and why it is aiming to be the start of a new drive for social change

As the hospitality industry gears up for what it hopes will be a return to a busy festive season after last year’s Covid inflicted struggle, the familiar problem of staffing shortages has reared its head. A study conducted by CGA and Fourth have revealed the scramble to hire staff, with one in six hospitality jobs lying vacant. With fewer than 18% of business leaders feeling confident about their recruitment and retention over the next 12 months, is it time to rethink the recruitment process of an industry which relies heavily on part-time and casual work towards a more stable alternative.

Catering Today spoke to Donna Catley, chief people officer at Compass Group, to find a solution. The group recently revealed the Compass Group Academy, which will launch in 2023 as “a multi-million pound investment designed to develop much needed skills in the hospitality industry with a focus on supporting young people from disadvantaged areas to build careers in the sector”. Could a shift in focus towards career progression, and a democratisation of long-term and permanent opportunities, provide a solution for the precarious industry.


Catley explains the idea behind the Compass Group Academy, is to realise a democratisation of opportunity within the industry. Catley says that “the academy sits within a bigger people strategy, which is around us being a driver for social change and social equality within this country”. It is based off of a realisation that the acute staffing crisis at the moment is created by a structural issue within the industry. The crisis is predominantly focused at the bottom of the chain of jobs, but it is the power structure up to the top which creates it.

While the CGA study reveals that the staffing shortage is “prompting business leaders to step up efforts to keep hold of staff”, with three quarters say they have offered better pay (76%) and stepped up their levels of communication (75%) as part of their retention strategies, it still remains an industry thwarted by high levels of turnover and uncertainty.

Catley reveals that one of the Academy’s aims is to rectify this: “Hospitality is the perfect industry to grow your career. It isn’t and doesn’t need to be an industry where you hop in as a student for a couple of years, and then hop out when you ‘get a proper job’,” she says.

“Actually, this is a business where you can start on the first rung of the ladder, and you can climb to wherever you want to go. It can be becoming a brilliant front of house, it can be managerial, or operational roads, and pretty much everything in addition to that.

“And I think there is really a fundamental repositioning of the third service in the hospitality industry to help people realise that’s what you can do in this industry. The academy is perfectly positioned for that.”

Social Change

To achieve this Catley explains the Academy will combine learning with outreach. As well as shifting to a skills-based focus on learning and training, Compass will will work with the local communities to “help children to think about what healthy eating looks like, encourage them to think about hospitality as an industry, and partner with a variety of charities to be able to give back into the region that we’re establishing”. Catley believes the breadth and scale of the company, with over 50,000 jobs in the organisation operating across 6,000 sites in the UK, positions it to be a “tremendous force for good in this country”.

Compass Group has announced that they will measure the socio-economic backgrounds of all its employees going forward, in an attempt to ensure more equitable career progression within the industry and to “understand what barriers exist”

Catley highlights the scope of ambition and explains: “It is absolutely possible to start on the first rung of the ladder, and to be able to progress to become a senior leader of this business. It’s not only possible, it does happen, and it needs to happen more frequently.”

By reframing a career in the industry as a long-term possibility, and away from casual and short-term work, and democratising the opportunities at the top, the precarity and pay issues underpinning the staffing crisis across the industry can begin to be resolved.


With the Academy aiming to train 12,000 people, Catley believes this is only the start of a larger project. She says: “I think what we’ll start to see, even in the course of next year, is that we’ll start to scope this out into something even bigger and better than what we’re outlining today.”

The belief is that the increased opportunities afforded by the Academy to a larger breadth of the population will result in an increased production of ideas and possibilities of how to continue to democratise and innovate within the industry.

The hope is that by widening the scope of the Academy other businesses, both within and outside of the hospitality industry, can follow suit and spark similar change.

Catley says: “We really want to challenge and support other businesses to really think about what they can do to build back the skills and experiences of people in particular at the frontline. Corporations have a tremendous opportunity, opportunity to be a force for good if they collaborate with charities and with the government, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

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