Generation Next: Exploring Promising Talent Pipelines

By Joe Baker, Tourism HR Canada Board of Directors

A recently released CBC report details which industries Canadian workers are flocking to—and which ones they were fleeing. The report tracked the number of employees between January 2019 and July 2022 across 16 different industry sectors and ranked the sectors from those who saw the largest increase in number of employees to those who saw the largest decrease. The sector identified as accommodations and foodservice was ranked 16th of 16 sectors, with a decrease from 1.2 million employees in January of 2019 to 1 million as of July 2022.

The report also mapped out how wages have increased since the pandemic started by ranking changes in average offered hourly wages across the various sectors. The accommodations and foodservice sector was at the bottom of the list, with stark contrast to those at the top.

We know none of this is news to hotel and restaurant operators across the country. While it may be frustrating to see this highlighted in the national news media, and while it’s deflating to be leading hotels and restaurants during such a challenging time, there are some reasons to be optimistic. And there are concrete steps we can take to move forward in our pursuit to reclaim the hearts and minds of hotel and restaurant talent in an ever-competitive labour market.  

Let’s start first with the optimism. Much of the dialogue on our labour challenges has become dangerously anecdotal—much like the many proposed solutions to overcome our talent deficit. I believe it’s time we turned to the data. While experience and intuition can feel like they supersede hard facts, the truth is experience and intuition can be fraught with bias and blind spots. We remember the past the way we want to remember the past. We hold on to beliefs longer than we should. And we force dated mental and business models into the future kicking and screaming without evaluating whether these models really serve the present day.

This CBC report calls us out. When stacked against almost every other sector in this country, we rank last in retention and last in wages. Now we know. Let’s rally to get ourselves further up that list. Let’s demonstrate through our actions that we can and will do better by our most precious and undeniably unrenewable resource—our people.

Where do we go from here? The good news is we don’t have to go far. There are two promising pools of talent right in our backyard. And they are growing and coming of age, ready for a bright future in Canada’s hospitality industry. If we can do right by them. This is generation next.  

The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey

Now in its 11th year, the Deloitte survey finds Gen Zs and millennials are striving for balance and advocating for change. Top concerns among Gen Zs and millennials in this year’s survey find them deeply concerned about the state of the world and actively trying to balance the challenges of their everyday lives with their desire to drive societal change. This report is rich with insights. Far too many to cover here. To dig deeper, I would strongly encourage readers to spend quality time analyzing and reflecting on the findings of this report.

Gen Zs and millennials are struggling with financial concerns, while trying to invest in environmentally sustainable choices. They feel burned out, but many are taking on second jobs, while pushing for more purposeful—and more flexible—work. They press their employers to tackle climate change, particularly when it comes to efforts they can get directly involved in, but businesses may still be missing opportunities to drive deeper and broader climate action. And they have inspired organizations to take action to address workplace mental health challenges, but many don’t feel this is resulting in any tangible change for employees.

The report notes they are striving for balance and advocating for change:

Grappling with the impact of the last few years, the youngest generations in the workforce are seeking balance and sustained change. In these uncertain times, they are reassessing their priorities and expecting more from business leaders. To attract and retain talent, business leaders should act urgently to shape work models that meet the expectations of their people. Prioritizing work/life balance, learning and development, and well-being will be critical, as will having a clear purpose and giving employees the opportunity to address societal issues through their work.

The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey

Meanwhile in Canada

Why should a global survey of Gen Zs and millennials matter to us in Canada and in the hotel and restaurant industry? Because we live in a globalized world. Because findings from demographic groups as influential as Gen Zs and millennials are just as relevant to us as they are to anyone else around the world.

If our goal is to make Canada competitive from an economic, socioeconomic, and environmental sustainability perspective, we need to know how we fare against other destinations—and how valued our people are. The talent drought spreads far and wide. Canadian tourism and hospitality skills are in high demand and highly transferable to other industries and to other countries. And in many ways, we have the deck stacked against us. While our culture, our cities, and our natural environments are globally attractive, our outrageous housing prices and hefty cost of living may make considering other destinations for inbound immigration and outbound mobility more important to demographic groups we need to attract to our industry as talent and as consumers.

Back to Generation Next

Let’s assume we have absorbed how we compare with other sectors at home, we have absorbed how globalized our world has become and we are curious about just how important the Gen Zs and millennials are. Why is this especially important now? Pandemic recovery for the tourism sector has come in waves. Lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccination monitoring gave way to government supports and sheer grit.

With businesses open and working towards thriving again, many governments—municipal, provincial/territorial, and federal—have turned their focus to supporting recruitment campaigns for our hard-hit sector. These are being amplified by the dynamic not-for-profit sector, including industry associations, education institutions, destination marketing organizations, and the private sector.

There is a surge of interest in reaching Canada’s youth and the internationally inbound youth who wish to build lives and careers with us. But here is the critical question: are we using dated recruitment strategies based on our experience and intuition or are we meeting the moment?  Do we understand who the Gen Zs and millennials are—those born in our country and those coming here through immigration? More good news. We have data for that. Let’s take a look.   

Canada’s Gen Zs and Millennials

Using census date from 2021, Statistics Canada defines millennials as people born between 1981 and 1996 (aged 25 to 40 at the time of the census). Generation Z is people born between 1997 and 2012 (aged 9 to 24).

Millennials represent the fastest-growing population in Canada. The number of people in this generation increased 8.6% between 2016 and 2021, compared with 5.2% for the overall population, thanks to higher rates of immigration among the millennial generation compared to other generations. The 2021 Census counted 7,926,575 millennials. More than half of the immigrants who settled in Canada from 2016-2017 to 2020-2021 were millennials. Immigrants therefore contributed significantly to the increase in the size of this generation, which currently makes up a large share of the working-age population.

One in three persons aged 15 to 64 are millennials. Millennials are the generation with the largest number of people in the working-age population (15 to 64 years). In the 2021 census, of the 23,957,760 Canadians in the working-age population, 33.2% were millennials, 29.5% were Gen X, 19.7% were baby boomers, and 17.6% were Gen Z.

Our Home Work

We have our work cut out for us. But armed with data, determination, and the grit we activated to get through the last few challenging years, we can get through this too. There are two new generations for us to learn about so we can attract them to our industry. We have an opportunity to reshape our work environments to meet the needs and demands of these generations. And if you are still asking yourself why and how, just remember this: not only are Gen Zs and millennials the most up-and-coming sources of talent, they are also becoming the most influential consumers in this country. Let’s help them fall in love with our industry first as employees and future leaders, and second as guests, customers, and clients.

Joe Baker is a passionate leader within Canada’s tourism, hospitality and education sectors and a vocal advocate for a resilient, inclusive, future-forward industry. He is CEO of Joe Baker & Co., a human capital consultancy focused on strengthening hospitality and tourism organizations and people. Baker was dean at Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts where he led the most significant transformation in the school’s over 50-year history. He serves on the board of directors at Tourism HR Canada and Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.

Joe can be found everywhere @thejoebaker.

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