By Elyse Rosenblum

The spa industry is booming. Revenue totaled $18.3 billion in 2018, a 4.7 percent increase from 2017. There were 190 million spa visits and there are now more spa establishments than ever before, in 22,160 locations across the country.

Despite this growth, the talent gap is having an impact, with the number of job vacancies in the spa industry remaining high despite a marginal decrease in the latest ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study. This is a pressing concern for spa professionals, with 40 percent of respondents in the 2018 ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study citing a lack of qualified talent as the industry’s biggest issue.

One way to address this is to increase workforce diversity and build a larger, more inclusive talent pipeline. This brings other benefits, as diverse teams often outperform their peers in terms of innovation and revenue growth. One study found that companies with diverse management teams were 35 percent more likely to achieve better financial performance than their industry peers.

While these figures are compelling, creating a more inclusive talent pipeline takes more than just good intentions. Focusing on what we call Opportunity Employment can transform hiring and have a significant impact within the spa industry. This approach is defined by a set of Opportunity Employment Principles that prioritize opportunity and mobility for entry-level and frontline workers while generating business value for companies. This strategy can help the spa industry build a more inclusive workforce and give spa establishments access to talented individuals that can drive their future growth.

Why Diversity?

Traditional hiring and recruiting practices often focus on credentials instead of skills, which means talented individuals who can successfully contribute to companies can be excluded from the process. However, there are several diverse groups–including veterans, people with disabilities, formerly incarcerated individuals and young people who have not completed postsecondary education–who could help address this talent gap.

Case in point: there are currently 7 million available jobs, and 5.9 million people looking for work. Additionally, the unemployment rate for disabled workers is twice the national rate, while it is even historically higher for the formerly incarcerated. Eleven percent of young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 are neither enrolled in school or working, which equates to five million young people who could help to fill workforce shortages in many industries. Many apprenticeship programs, workforce and skills development organizations provide valuable training for these groups, but what is missing are innovations in the typical approach to hiring and mechanisms that encourage more employers and hiring managers to consider these talent pools for entry-level and frontline roles.

As of 2019, there were more than 28,000 available service provider positions and more than 4,300 open spa director and manager roles. These workforce shortages will affect how the industry serves customers and, ultimately, how much revenue the industry generates. Small local businesses may feel the impact even more, which is why it is so critical for businesses to take steps now to address this challenge.

However, along with the talent gap, there is another pressing reason spas should focus on diversity and inclusion: customer experience.

According to Nielsen, African Americans spend more than $1 billion annually on hair care, grooming, personal care and skin care products. Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans also are dedicated beauty consumers, spending more on skin care and health and beauty products, respectively, than the general population. A more diverse and inclusive workplace may lead to a more diverse and larger customer base. Some health and wellness companies are already moving in this direction by making inclusion a key part of their ethos. HealHaus, a wellness center in Brooklyn, New York, offers “an inclusive space focused on holistic health and wellness,” with many diverse practitioners. When people see themselves represented in the staff and products offered, it creates a more welcoming environment and may drive repeat business and more revenue.

How to Achieve a More Diverse Workforce

Diversifying the industry will take dedicated effort and the approach will be different depending on whether a business is small, a large corporation or a national chain. Our organization, Grads of Life, has worked with both large and small employers for several years to change their perceptions and build a more inclusive workforce. We have distilled all this learning and experience into several Opportunity Employment Principles and strategies that can be effective for a range of companies, including those in the spa industry.

Here are several practical steps businesses of all sizes can consider:

  • Partner with Local Organizations
    Look for local apprenticeship, training and workforce development programs and other community-based organizations in your area that you can partner with. If you are hiring for a new role, need a summer intern or even want to offer job shadowing, connect with these organizations and forge an informal or formal partnership to get the talent you need. Hiring diverse candidates for even short-term roles may help to fill your talent pipeline when a full-time position becomes available.

  • Create a Data-Driven Opportunity Employment Strategy
    Finding more diverse candidates for frontline and entry-level roles requires a strategy. Though larger businesses may be able to employ this more easily than smaller companies, consider engaging in workforce planning to forecast entry-level and frontline skill and competency needs. You could also expand key performance indicators (KPIs) for supervisors and managers to include talentrelated metrics such as diversity, employee engagement and retention. In addition, it is critical to build companywide buy-in for Opportunity Employment practices, whether through training, internal communications or community-oriented events.

  • Reduce Barriers to Accessing Entry-Level and Frontline Roles
    How we hire can affect who we hire. To address this, reduce bias (implicit or otherwise) in job description language. Focus on gender-neutral terms and avoid references or slang which could unintentionally alienate certain candidates. Spas also can consider eliminating degree requirements that are unnecessary to undertake a particular job. That way the focus is on skills instead of the credential.

  • Make a Commitment to Inclusion and Respect
    Recruiting and hiring diverse candidates is only half the battle. It is just as important to foster an inclusive work environment. You can do this by introducing diversity and inclusion training and sexual harassment training for all employees, by giving employees the opportunity to voice feedback and ideas for improvement, and by cultivating a diverse senior leadership team. You can foster a more inclusive culture by connecting frontline and entry-level workers to your company’s mission and purpose, whether through the onboarding process or internal mentorship programs or, even more simply, leading by example.

The Path Forward for the Spa Industry

Building a more diverse workforce takes time but is worth the effort. Diversity is not just about doing social good: it is about creating businesses which reflect the world in which we live. Better performance, more revenue and more innovation ultimately follow when we focus on diversity and inclusion. As the spa industry faces an ongoing talent gap, a renewed focus on diversity will help businesses across the country find the qualified talent they need and achieve improved business outcomes.

GRADS OF LIFE IS A NATIONAL NON-PROFIT which leverages market demand for Opportunity Talent to help transform employer perceptions and hiring practices. Grads of Life places an innovative focus on the demand side of the talent marketplace, harnessing the power of the private sector to build an employer-led movement to create pathways to employment for Opportunity Talent nationwide. Opportunity Talent are individuals from traditionally untapped talent pools—such as Opportunity Youth (16-24-year-olds who are neither in school nor working), individuals with disabilities, veterans, formerly incarcerated individuals—who seek economic stability through employment.

ELYSE ROSENBLUM is the founder and principal of Grads of Life, where she leads and implements the organization’s strategy to drive employer demand for Opportunity Talent. She was scheduled to speak at the 2020 ISPA Talent Symposium before the event’s cancellation.