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Hiring Heroes - our interview with Ben Gabbitas

Hiring Heroes - our interview with Ben Gabbitas

Hiring Heroes - our interview with Ben Gabbitas



Tell us about your background

I've been in the hospitality industry for most of my career. I studied electronic engineering at university whilst working in restaurants and bars in and around the Cheshire area. I joined Loch Fyne Restaurants back in 2004, spending several years with them working across the UK, from Cheshire to Newcastle to London. After a brief stint at Carluccio's I returned to independent hotels before moving into a recruitment consultancy called 360 Resourcing in the North West. Following that, I joined The Restaurant Group as a recruitment manager, marking my first in-house role and later transitioned to Malmaison Hotel du Vin, where I spent six years working all over the UK.

About a year ago, I made the move to Valor Hospitality, for a new challenge and a fresh perspective.

What are some of the most nagging challenges you have faced when it comes to hiring?

One of the challenges we face is that Valor is a hotel management company, we sit behind the scenes and our name isn't as recognisable as some of the brands we manage. While Valor is well-recognised at management levels and above, many job seekers at the team manager level want to work for specific hotel brands (e.g. the Crowne Plaza in Stratford, or the Holiday Inn Reading). They don't want to work for Valor because they don't know who we are. So our challenge lies in pitching our recruitment at the right level, deciding when to put the hotel in front of the job seeker or when to choose Valor.

One of my pet peeves is panic hiring. While we understand the need to hire quickly, more often than not, a rushed hire turns out to be the wrong hire. In a candidate-short market we need to act swiftly, but we need to make sure we are running a proper hiring process to avoid the negative consequences of repeating recruitment, incurring hidden costs, and impacting team morale due to high turnover within the first 90 days.

Reducing the 0 to 90-day turnover has been our primary focus over the past year: how can we make the onboarding process better, how can we make recruitment streamlined and more effective and more appealing to candidates.

How have supply shocks, Brexit, the global pandemic impacted Valor?

The hospitality sector was facing staff shortages, especially in roles like chefs and housekeeping before the pandemic and Brexit. While they made the situation more acute it's down to the employers in the sector to promote the positives that working in hospitality can bring.

Lots of businesses have made step changes in their approach to their teams which is great. There are so many opportunities in the sector and with such low barriers to entry anyone who has the passion to work in this great industry can start at the bottom and quickly rise to the top.

In this candidate short market the focus has to be on hiring for personality and culture add rather than just what the CV says. Our “Right Fit” Recruitment training teaches hiring managers at a property level to focus on these attributes first and everything else second. This coupled with piloting schemes with the Department of Work and Pensions designed to encourage older workers into the sector have helped lower our vacancies year on year.

What have you seen that works (or doesn't work) when trying to solve these?

Promoting the opportunities available within Valor is crucial. We have several General Managers who have risen through the ranks. These are great stories to tell. We need to tell these stories without making it overtly recruitment-focused. It's more than that. Take Sarah, one of our Senior General Managers at the Crowne Plaza in Leeds. She has transitioned through four, maybe five Valor properties, whether through promotions or lateral moves, to gain experience in larger properties.

We invest heavily in the properties we manage. When you step into one of our properties, you experience a 'wow' factor. And we treat all our employees the same, regardless of the brand they work for. We recently conducted an engagement survey and achieved a 94% completion rate, with an overall 85% engagement score from our team. This is quite extraordinary, and it underscores the impact of our efforts.

Technology plays a vital role, especially in recruitment. We're investing in technology to streamline the process for on-site personnel, making tasks like CV screening and candidate communication more efficient. We're also exploring how AI can assist us, not in making decisions, but in simplifying and enhancing the process for both candidates and hiring managers.

We often hear “10% of my roles cause 90% of my problems”. Does this resonate with you?

Yes and no. Team member positions are our biggest focus. We have a well-established management team across our estate. Team members make up over 60% of our headcount, and that's just at the entry level. Different departments have different needs so, the question is, how do we tackle recruitment for these positions simply so they don't become a problem?

They might be more than 10% of our roles, but how do we make sure it's less of an issue than it needs to be. This involves simplifying the recruitment experience and equipping our managers with the tools and training they need to do this effectively.

Why is the candidate experience in the hiring journey important?

In today's job market, it's as much 'why should I work for you' as it is about 'why you should work for me.' If we rewind 10 years it was: "this is why you should come work for us.". It's very much a candidate-driven market. This has made a lot of employers sit up and take notice and I genuinely love it. It is only making what is already a great industry even better.

We typically start with a broad funnel and we make it easy for candidates to apply, and then filter it down during the process. Ensuring that the application processes are straightforward and maintaining clear and transparent communication with candidates in both directions is crucial. Ghosting and candidates not turning up has massively increased since the pandemic at all levels. We need to rethink how we communicate and make use of all available tools.

In the past, senior-level interviews used to drag on for weeks as we tried to match up diaries to get people in the same room. The pandemic showed us that we don't need to do that with virtual meeting tool. We can make decisions and have conversations with people without the need for face-to-face interactions. Face-to-face interactions are valuable, and I don't think anything will replace that entirely, but it doesn't need to be the sole method of interviewing.

What mustn't be lost in the hiring journey though is the impact that a candidate experiencing the culture of our teams within our hotels - you can't capture that on a video call.

How have you used data to inform your recruitment strategy?

Data touches every aspect of our strategy. From assessing the ROI of our job board partners at the start of the process and determining where we need to invest, all the way through to identifying trends and problem properties. We work really closely with HR leads to identify and address any issues at specific properties. For example, if we're on the fourth head chef this year then we know there is something going wrong in some process somewhere and more support is needed. The data and analytics underpin all the decisions we make.

We're currently undertaking a big piece of work with PowerBI to consolidate data from multiple sources into one dashboard. Fundamentally, our ability to access data will inform the decisions we make about who we work with. If the data isn't free-flowing, or we can't access it easily, we might make decisions to sign contracts with different suppliers as we can see where we are getting the most ROI. The job posting landscape is increasingly programmatic, and the market is shifting.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for hiring leaders when it comes to talent acquisition and candidate experience?

Embracing the changes that are coming. Whilst I wouldn't like to use AI to make hiring decisions, it's essential for enhancing efficiency and saving time. If we can streamline processes to give our managers more time for making better decisions, then it can only be a good thing.

This coupled with promoting our brands and business to candidates in ways they can engage with us. This might be proactively showcasing who we are at recruitment events or via social media. We cant sit still and wait for candidates to come to us.

What's a major talent acquisition trend you're paying attention to in 2023/24?

I'm interested in the concept of ”positive friction” in the recruitment process. We've been very good with one-click apply, and that gets us this massive funnel of people, but if we don't have the time to give them a great candidate experience we could be causing more harm than good. Positive friction is a way of building simple application forms that can effectively screen out unsuitable candidates or push them towards a slightly different role within the organisation. So that will be interesting and that will be utilising AI, or chatbot technology, to ask the questions in an informal way.

What's one piece of parting wisdom you have for future hiring leaders?

In the world of recruitment, every day is a learning opportunity. Keep learning and stay open to discussions. There's always something to learn, whether it's from someone who has succeeded, someone who has faced failure, or someone who has taken a different path. Networking with others in the industry who are dealing with similar challenges is invaluable. In the hospitality sector, most people are grappling with similar issues, so be ready to ask questions, share information, and sometimes just shut up and listen!