HATS To Boost Skills Training In Hospitality Sector


Leading hospitality and tourism operators join forces to launch new ‘HATS’ initiative to tackle the skills shortage.

A new employer-led network launches today to spearhead delivery of an action plan aimed at supporting the attraction and retention of talent in Northern Ireland’s tourism sector. 

With a shared vision to grow a skilled and professional workforce to support the projected growth in tourism, the network’s collaborative approach will unite employers, government and education providers to tackle skills challenges once and for all.

Northern Ireland’s dynamic tourism sector has been enjoying significant success and has its sights firmly set on growing further over the next decade, increasing employment opportunities by creating an additional 25,000 jobs.  Currently worth £968million and employing over 65,000 people across Northern Ireland, it provides opportunities for local people to develop their own tourism businesses as well as providing flexible pathways for careers.

Leading hospitality and tourism operators join forces to launch new ‘HATS’ initiative to tackle skills. L-R (Front Row) Marian McGreevy, Fitzwilliam Hotel; Judith Owens, Titanic Belfast; Roisin McKee, HATS Project Director and Back Row (L-R) Niall Casey, Invest NI; Vicky Green, Andras House Hotels; Ciaran O’Neill, Bishop’s Gate Hotel and HATS Chairman.

However, skills challenges – compounded by Brexit – risk undermining the sector’s economic performance and profitability.

Network chair, Ciaran O’Neill from Bishop’s Gate Hotel in Derry-Londonderry and a former NI Hotels Federation (NIHF) President, comments: “The people who work in hospitality and tourism are the cornerstone of the sector’s growth and vital in providing our visitors with a warm welcome and fantastic service. Yet, attracting and retaining skilled employees remains a major business challenge. To remain internationally competitive the industry has to become more productive, flexible and innovative. The need to find, nurture and retain talent therefore is critical.”

To help tackle this, a new partnership supported by Invest Northern Ireland under its Collaborative Growth Programme has launched to support delivery of a three-year action plan to address the skills challenges faced by employers.

Niall Casey, Director of Skills and Competitiveness at Invest NI, said: “We are delighted to support the HATS network through our Collaborative Growth Programme. By working collectively, there will be a strong focus on how best to attract, retain and engage a skilled workforce to enable our businesses to grow. We already know that tourism is vitally important to our local economy and we hope that this project will help the development of skills, contributing towards success within the hospitality and tourism sector.”

The HATS network brings together a diverse mix of employers from across the hospitality and tourism sector alongside industry associations and key delivery partners from government and education. Members will collectively address issues around sector image, attractiveness and skills development into and within the sector.

The action plan, informed by a robust evidence base, has three work-streams:

  1. Attract: Maximising promotion of the sector to encourage and support recruitment of new talent into future employment.
  2. Retain: Promoting good working practices and building industry awareness of available skills support to retain talent.
  3. Engage: Harnessing collaborative working across key partners and leveraging existing resources for skills and career development to maximum effect.

Encouraging more employers and partners to get involved, Ciaran O’Neill added: “Now is the time for us to collectively embrace the opportunity to grow a motivated and talented workforce that will sustain all our businesses in the long-term and ensure that tourism continues to be a success story for Northern Ireland.”

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