Our intern asks his classmates: “Are you still planning on a career in hospitality after graduation?”

By Elijah Jimenez, UGSRP Intern

It’s no secret that there is currently a labour crisis affecting many industries across Canada, but of the hardest hit industries, hospitality is one that stands out among the crowd. The hospitality industry is one that has had issues finding and retaining good staff for years, but since the pandemic, this issue has become more and more prevalent.

As a fifth-year hospitality student at the University of Guelph, I started out my post-secondary education with a dream to own and operate my own restaurant after graduating. After my first year in the program, I learned about the extremely low profit margins and high start-up costs associated with starting a restaurant—I quickly came to realize that I would have to spend some time working in the industry and saving up to make this dream a reality.

During my second and fourth years, I spent time serving and bartending at two different establishments and realized that working in hospitality meant giving up evenings, weekends, and missing out on quality time spent with friends and family. Between that and the low pay associated with the work, I’ve now decided that I no longer want to pursue a career in hospitality.

Coming to this realization, I began to wonder if there were other students or recent graduates like me, who studied hospitality but upon graduation realized they didn’t want to pursue a career in the industry. Additionally, I also wanted to learn what factors motivate people to work in hospitality and what factors deter people from it. To answer these questions, I sent out a survey to my graduating class to determine what percentage of hospitality students planned to work in the industry upon graduation, what percentage of students are still planning to work in the industry now that they are graduating, and the major factors affecting why they do or don’t want to pursue careers in hospitality. This exploratory survey had a modest return yielding ten responses from upper year hospitality students at the University of Guelph; however, the information that was discovered aligns with the information I’ve found on the topic through conversations with my fellow classmates.

Are hospitality graduates planning to work in the industry?

Based on this survey, I found that approximately 90 percent of students planned to pursue a career in hospitality when they first began their post-secondary education in hospitality and tourism management. This came as no surprise to me, as I expected most, if not all the students intended to work in the industry when they chose hospitality and tourism as their major.

Of the students that intended to pursue a career in hospitality, only 50 percent are still planning on working in the industry now that they are coming up on graduation. Of those still planning to pursue a career in hospitality, 100 percent of them said that the fun and excitement of the industry and the ability to work anywhere in the world were the major reasons why they did. Providing great experiences for others, the fulfilling work, and the people were important factors for 75 percent of those who still want to work in hospitality.

Looking at the other half of students who no longer intend to work in hospitality, all of them said that the long/odd hours, salary/wages, and emotional exhaustion were reasons why. On top of that, 60 percent said they didn’t want to pursue a career in hospitality due to the lack of work-life balance, the lack of proper breaks, and the stress associated with the work.

After seeing the results of this survey, I decided to dig a little deeper and interview some recent hospitality graduates, two that started their career in hospitality and two that ventured into different industries. My hope for these interviews was to gain further insight as to why people intended to stay in hospitality and why others didn’t intend to stay.

Daniel Cherian graduated from hospitality management in 2021 and is currently the Front Desk Manager at the Toronto Airport Marriott. When asked about his decision to pursue a career in hospitality, Cherian mentioned that “hospitality is a family profession—growing up, my dad always managed restaurants. After seeing how much fun he had doing it, I knew this was an industry I wanted to work in.” This was a major factor in his decision to work in the industry.

Employees are carrying the weight of the labour crisis

Cherian is very passionate about the hospitality industry—his ability to connect with people and provide them with great customer service are just a couple of the things he loves about working in the industry. Lately, Cherian has been noticing that the length of his shifts has been increasing due to an inadequate number of staff. “Because of how understaffed we are, it’s become my responsibility to fill in those gaps,” Cherian remarked when asked what some of the difficult aspects of his role were. To ensure his team is getting to take their breaks, Cherian mentioned that he frequently must leave his managerial tasks to cover the desk. This often leads to him staying 2 to 3 hours later to ensure that the next shift is set up for success, receiving no additional pay or overtime for these extra hours.

Work-life balance

Katie Tebay, a 2020 hospitality graduate, told me that her decision to work in her current role was largely due to circumstance. “I graduated in the height of the pandemic so there weren’t a lot of hospitality positions available” Tebay said. She is currently working at West Avenue Cider House as the Cider House Manager and Director of Operations; she’s been working there for five years now in various positions, before assuming her current role after graduating.

Tebay really enjoys her current position, as she is learning a lot about the behind-the-scenes aspects of how a business runs; however, she is unsure if she will still be working in hospitality over the next 10 years. Tebay plans to have a family one day and doesn’t believe that the hours

and expectations of her current position will allow her to have the quality time with her family that she desires. The early shifts, long days, and lack of weekends off due to staffing issues are just a few of the things that are currently affecting Tebay’s work-life balance.

Wages and benefits aren’t enough in today’s economy

Emily Robinson, the Academic Advisor and Food Education Manager at the University of Guelph, said that she chose her current position because it was still associated with the hospitality industry, but had more stable hours and better pay—this allows her to have a better work-life balance than if she had have taken a position managing a restaurant. During her studies, she worked as a host, server, and bartender at various restaurants and noticed how overworked her managers were. After seeing this, Robinson came to the realization that “[she] like[s] the industry, but not enough to not have a life outside of it.”

Nicole Dias, a 2021 hospitality graduate, chose not to work in hospitality after completing school because the pay wasn’t enough to be able to cover rent and other expenses, while still leaving enough left over to save for the purchase of a house. “The positions that do pay enough, like salary positions, come with extra expectations to come in early or stay late with no overtime pay,” Dias said. Knowing this, Dias took a job with the Golf Association of Ontario as a Regional Coordinator after graduating. “The pay isn’t great—it’s similar to what a restaurant manager would make, but at least I know I’ll be compensated for any extra hours I put in,” Dias noted.

Are people more concerned about a healthy work-life balance?

Everyone who was interviewed believed that one of the biggest factors why hospitality is faced with such an extreme labour crisis is due to the lack of a healthy work-life balance associated with working in the industry. “I feel like during the pandemic people began to realize that they could have a better work-life balance through remote work,” Dias stated. The issue of work-life

balance is becoming even more severe in hospitality because the current employees are being used to fill the gaps of the labour shortages as Cherian mentioned was the case at his workplace.

The reality is that the world is a completely different place from when my classmates and I started our undergrad. The pandemic completely shifted most of our outlooks on life and made us realize that there are healthier ways to live. In my opinion, this is why more than 50 percent of my graduating class are no longer planning to pursue a career in hospitality. If changes aren’t made to how things are done in the hospitality industry, it is likely that more hospitality students will pursue other ventures, and the severity of the current labour crisis will continue to increase.

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