Mature workers in hospitality: How to stay in the game
After a lifetime of working in customer service positions, Kathy suddenly found herself facing layoff after her employer decided to hire younger staff who were willing to work part-time versus full-time hours.
Instead of accepting the prospect of early retirement, the 55-year-old decided to retrain through her local Tourism Education Council in an area of customer service she had never tried. Following a five-week course in tourism and front desk training, she quickly found a full-time hotel job in her chosen hospitality career.
"I thought the graduates would have to start at the bottom of the ladder, since we were the rookies despite our experience," she says. "But after I faxed in my resume, I had my hotel interview the next day, and I was working three days later at the Gordon Hotel chain."
Mature Workers Finding Steady Employment
Kathy's experience, it turns out, is becoming increasingly common as mature workers choose to remain in the workforce past retirement or return to part-time and full-time jobs. As people live longer and healthier lives, and with the abolition of mandatory retirement laws, there is a pool of talented candidates who want to continue contributing to society.
The hospitality industry has a critical need for such workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Accommodation and food services make up about 8.1% of all employment.
- Employment in the accommodation and food services industries is forecast to grow 18% between 2002 and 2012, accounting for more than 1.6 million new jobs.
- At the same time, hospitality will lose 10 million workers in the U.S. by 2010.
The Older Advantage
The advantages older workers offer to the people-hungry hospitality industry are many:
- Experience. Many mature workers have already worked 30 to 50 years, so they have wisdom and expertise to offer.
- Financial security. They're empty nesters who have paid off their mortgages, so their financial priorities have changed. They no longer face the same financial stresses as their younger counterparts.
- Patience. Because of their vast experience, mature workers have seen it all and done it all, so they're better able to react calmly to stressful situations.
- Work ethic. Today's older workers come from a background that values hard work for fair pay. They're loyal and dedicated, and they're not always looking over their shoulder for the next opportunity.
- Flexibility. They're flexible in the types of jobs they'll perform and the hours they'll work.
It was this flexibility that helped get Kathy her hotel job. "In the interview, I looked straight into the GM's eyes and said, 'I want this job, and you won't be sorry if you give me this job. I have the personality and the qualifications. At the same time, I am willing to be flexible enough to do other jobs in your building, if necessary. If the bartender can't make it, I can do his job. I'm prepared to do whatever it takes at a moment's notice because I'm a team player.'"
What Older Workers Want
Why are so many mature workers seeking out jobs in the hospitality industry? Hotel, restaurant, resort and foodservice jobs offer the kind of flexibility many retirees seek as they change careers or return to post-retirement employment.
This is what motivated Paulette LeBlanc to return to work after taking early retirement at 53. "I stayed at home and raised two daughters. Once they had left for university, I wanted a part-time job that would give me some extra money and allow me to travel," she says. She also sought a new career that would combine her love of cooking with a desire to work with people. She applied to a nearby four and half star establishment, The Little Shemogue Inn, where she helps in the kitchen and also greets guests as they arrive.
"In this day and age, 58 is not old," she says. I've worked all my life, and 58 to me is not old to work with the public. That's what keeps you young - to be out of the home, to do a part-time job. My dad is 81, and he's still working part-time. It's good for the morale to be out with people and not stuck in your home."
Tips for Mature Workers
Do you see yourself switching jobs or returning to a career in the hospitality industry?
Wendy Swedlove, president of the Tourism Human Resource Council, offers this advice:
- It's not important to stay competitive; it's important to understand the work involved in the job and then go and sell yourself to an employer based on your talents.
- Know your limitations. If it's a restaurant job requiring heavy lifting, ask yourself whether you've got the physical stamina required.
- Be clear in your interview. If you're applying for a hotel job, for instance, let your prospective employer know what hours you're willing to work.
- Know your financial worth. Be prepared, especially in a restaurant job, to accept wages that might be lower than you're used to.
- Be a team player and a good co-worker. If you're working in a hospitality job where you're the oldest staff member, remember to respect the other workers. That way, after a while, your age will become "invisible."