Saturday 19 October 2019

Alan O'Neill: How to cook up a training scheme and retain your best staff

'Previously, I indicated that the cost of recruitment in the hospitality sector can be as high as €7,000 per employee.' Stock image
'Previously, I indicated that the cost of recruitment in the hospitality sector can be as high as €7,000 per employee.' Stock image

Alan O'Neill

We are now an employee market, and for workers there seems to be lots of jobs to choose from. Consequently, there are many industries struggling to recruit and retain good people, such as the agri sector, building industry, hairdressing, hospitality, pub trade, retail and general sales roles. Many of my clients, when they advertise jobs, get either few applications - or none at all. Can you believe that such a reality exists, given the way things were just a handful of years ago?

When people are in jobs, they are constantly being tempted to move. LinkedIn and other social media platforms is one obvious reason. The negative implications for this are fourfold.


Previously, I indicated that the cost of recruitment in the hospitality sector can be as high as €7,000 per employee. This is due to recruitment, on-boarding and training costs. In addition, pay rates are going up as employees negotiate better deals for themselves. While the numbers may vary, this applies to all industries.

Customer Service

When good people leave, they bring their experience and personal goodwill with them. While the company tries to replace that leaver, the team is then short-staffed and service levels suffer. When it does find a new recruit, that new person will understandably make mistakes as they settle in.


If yours is a high-touch business, sales people have to grow into the role while they learn product knowledge, systems and processes, etc. It can take months before they start to hit sales targets. And it's not just about salespeople.

A delivery driver, for example, might miss a deadline, or when a stylist leaves a hair salon, their clients might follow them.


When good people leave a team, there is a grieving period, where the remainers can feel a loss. In most cases, the recruitment of a replacement can take time but, in the meantime, the rest of the team has to carry the extra workload. If this takes too long or if it happens frequently, your people will get unsettled and agitated.

There are 'push' and 'pull' factors that cause employees to leave a company. Push factors are where working conditions, or the boss, or perhaps the job itself are not attractive to the employee anymore. The organisation has control over these and can often prevent them. Pull factors are less controllable as they are driven by external forces, such as proactive recruiters and headhunters, etc. For all these reasons, it makes good sense to have a strategy to retain your best people. And you can do something about it.

Gleneagle Hotel Group, Killarney

Specifically in the hospitality sector, there is a critical shortage of chefs. But that is less of a problem for the Gleneagle Group in Killarney.

Their employee engagement scores in surveys are very high. With 48 chefs in the group, their retention levels buck the trend, which they attribute to ongoing training and engagement.

From Dublin originally, Chad Byrne is now group development chef and has been with the company for six years. A real people person, he is passionate about food and has a great insight to his trade. He himself started as a young lad and has pushed himself through his career over the years. "This is a difficult and stressful job. Customer expectations are high and it's very fast-paced. Chefs often leave out of frustration and lack of recognition," says Chad.

Training as a Retention Tool

Chad is a great believer in training as a key retention tool. "Being a great chef requires passion, creativity and skill. I believe that most chefs want to better themselves and recognise that training is an enabler for that," says Chad. If chefs feel that they're not progressing in a job, they're more likely to leave. Especially if there are other things that are bothering them too.

Chad developed the idea for a 'Chef Collab' and with the help of four peers from Kerry, developed a practical chef learning academy.

Initially started in Killarney, chefs from all over Ireland at all levels of experience can apply to join a panel as a learner. Likewise, hotels and restaurants can join a panel of learning destinations. By so doing they are making their premises and chefs available to receive learners.

The 'Chef Collab' acts as a hub to co-ordinate the allocation of learners to destinations.

The learners are then released by their employers to go to their allocated destination for 2-3 days of intensive on-the-job learning. They develop a set course chosen by themselves which they showcase on the night of the 'Collab'.

On the last Monday of every month, businesses donate their premises for pop-up events. The learners get an opportunity to try their new skills in a live environment alongside their mentor. Those evenings are sold at a slight discount.

Chefs return to their own business refreshed, motivated and full of new ideas. It's a win for everyone - the customer and the learner. And the restaurant is filling its venue on what is usually a quiet Monday night. There is now a waiting list until February 2019 for chefs and mentors wanting to participate.


I'm confident there is a message here for other industries where retention is difficult and for companies who are challenged with finding and keeping good people.

It starts with a mindset that values and respects the employees and sees training as a retention tool.

Alan O'Neill, The Change Agent Contact Alan if you'd like support with your business. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to

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