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UK spa leaders gather to debate staff recruitment and retention

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Some of the UK's leading spa operators and consultants convened in Birmingham last week (14 November) for a CEO Summit to come up with potential solutions for how to find and keep good therapists.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that staff recruitment and retention is the number one challenge in the UK spa industry. While current research shows that there are nearly 33,000 vacant positions for therapists in the US alone and as many as 95 per cent of operators globally face problems in hiring spa managers and directors with the right combination of qualifications and experience.

Summit host Michelle Hammond, director of training company The Spa Business School, said: "The industry is growing exponentially which is brilliant. It's becoming more accessible and the wellness banner is widening and opening up incredible opportunities. But in reality we're really struggling to offer the services. The problem always comes back to 'how can we find great staff and keep them?' It's become a critical issue.

"Today we want to get some collective ideas of what we can do, but also set some precedence of accountability and who's going to help move things forward."

Up to 30 senior representatives from country-wide groups such as Macdonald and Handpicked Hotels and noteworthy independent properties like Rockliffe Hall and Careys Manor, to colleges and suppliers such as Caudalie and Aromatherapy Associates put forward their views.

Lively brainstorm sessions focused on four key topics. These included renumeration, career pathways, training and development, and industry image – how do we PR the industry to elevate it and get more people coming in?

Discussions touched on a need for the industry to respond to disruptors such as the growing number of on-demand massage companies which pay therapists significantly more for fewer hours. Jack Tan, CEO of on-demand firm Urban Massage, revealed that therapists on its books get paid up to £40 an hour compared to spas which pay around £11 an hour, plus benefits. Could offering tiered salaries for peak times or experience, as well as more flexible working hours be a solution for facilities?

Interestingly, Tan's company now works with spas in urban hubs such as London, Manchester and Birmingham to supply therapists for last-minute appointments and help them improve their yield. Zeel has a similar model in both the UK and US. In other news, Tan announced a company rebrand to 'Urban' to coincide with an expansion which will see it offering osteopathy, facials (with Dermalogica) and nailcare services direct to consumers.

Part of the industry recruitment problem stems from the disparity in therapist training at a college level – spas simply don't know how well qualified school leavers are and often have to spend extra time and money in getting them up to speed. It was suggested that the sector would benefit from a country-wide accreditation system for training providers. Charlie Thompson, chair of the UK Spa Association (UKSA), said there's scope for the UKSA to work with Habia – the government organisation which sets standards for spa and beauty qualifications – to rank courses. He encouraged people to sign up for a UKSA membership to help fund this.

The summit formed part of the two-day Spa Life International (UK) conference and Cathy Ball, spa director at Calcot Spa pointed out. "In terms of PR and raising awareness of the industry, I think we've missed an opportunity. We have photographers, cameramen and examples of people who have amazing careers all in one room." She called for the event organisers to create a montage of "amazing industry stories" at next year's convention which operators and the UKSA could use at school career days to reach 14 to 15-year-olds.

It was also recommended that UK representatives look at what's happening at a global level in this area. Launched in 2015 by the Global Wellness Institute and Spa Opportunities publisher Leisure Media, spaandwellnesscareers.com already documents industry success stories worldwide and hosts a PR video championing the sector.

In addition, the website provides details about global spa internship and mentorship programmes – subjects which were also addressed during the summit.

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Some of the UK's leading spa operators and consultants convened in Birmingham last week (14 November) for a CEO Summit to come up with potential solutions for how to find and keep good therapists.
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