The tourism and hospitality industry is heading towards a potentially crippling labour shortage and has to do more to appeal to Generation Z, new Edith Cowan University (ECU) research suggests. Born between 1995 and 2009, Generation Z will make up over 20 per cent of the workforce in the next four years, yet indicators show they are steering away from one of the nation’s fastest growing industries.

Even now, nearly half (42 per cent) of hospitality employers report problems filling vacancies, with 28 jobs per 100 staff unfilled – a situation likely to grow worse as baby boomers retire.

“The industry isn’t doing enough to appeal to Generation Z and too often look at those already in work as cheap labour,” said Dr Edmund Goh from ECU’s School of Business and Law. “Our research explored the motivations of Generation Z workers and found salary is less important as compared to previous generations. They are much more interested in opportunities to work internationally and having a dynamic and enjoyable workplace – which suggests a huge shift in work culture and environment. The industry needs to appeal to these changing expectations.”

The research saw Dr Goh and Cindy Lee from Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School conduct in-depth interviews with hospitality students from three training institutes.

Despite being stereotyped as smart phone and device addicts, many Generation Z participants were attracted to tourism and hospitality because they wanted face-to-face interactions. At the same time, their digital upbringing made many worried they did not have the skills to deal with people in the lived world.

“They are the first generation to grow up with the internet and have been solving problems online, so they don’t have the same in-person experience,” Dr Goh said. “Employers need to allay these fears and offer a new kind of training.”

Some students also voiced fears of the hospitality industry’s reputation for bullying, which Dr Goh says may be as much a product of shows such as Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares as reality.