An overwhelming majority of hospitality professionals reckon it is now harder to find the quality of employees they are looking for than ever before.

Nearly 82% said it was harder than at any time in the past to recruit suitable staff, with a staggering 93% of respondents saying they found it either somewhat difficult (44%) or very difficult (49%).

That's according to new research conducted by The Caterer as part of the Think Again campaign, in association with foodservice firm Sodexo.

The wide-ranging survey polled employers in the foodservice, hotel and restaurant markets on a range of employment-related issues with a particular focus on the difficulties of recruiting new entrants to the sector, where some of the shortage areas lie, and what can be done to change perceptions among the public.

Two clear factors emerged when employers were asked to consider the most important factors when it comes to explain why it is a challenge to recruit for hospitality roles - the perception of low pay (which topped the list with 34%) and long hours (27%). Another significant barrier was, in the estimation of employers, a perception of a lack of career progression (16%).

The findings show that there is still a lot of work to be done to communicate to potential entrants to the hospitality industry, as well as their parents in the case of young people, that work in the hospitality sometimes better paid than they may thing. Findings from research released last week by Fourth Analytics showed that the actual pay of hourly-paid hospitality workers has in fact risen by 12.6% to £7.71 over the past two years, ahead of the recently introduced National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour. When those under 21 are removed from the equation, hourly remuneration rises to £7.92. Fourth predicted that the hourly rate average in hospitality would hit £8 in January 2017 and could well approach £8.50 by April 2017 when the next incremental increase comes into force.

According to The Caterer's research, chef de partie roles were rated as the hardest vacancies to fill (selected by 53% of respondents),  followed by commis chefs (46%), sous chefs (43%), waiters and waitresses (40%), and pastry chefs (36%).

Retaining recruits once employers have found them also proves to be challenging. While only 8% said they found it very difficult to keep hold of them, 51% described it as difficult and 28% were neutral on the issue. Only 12% said it was easy, and a mere 0.8% rate it as very easy.

This could spell trouble in the wake of Brexit and the possibility that workers from the EU could in future require visas to work in the UK, particularly since 73% of survey respondents said the hospitality sector could not fill vacancies with the people it needs without EU workers.

Despite the difficulties they find in recruiting people, those actually working in hospitality now rate their career as fulfilling. Nearly 45% described it as very fulfilling, with 29% saying it was somewhat fulfilling. A clear majority of 78% said they would recommend hospitality to young people looking to establish their own career.

Interestingly, when asked what the most effective means of enthusing more young people about a career in hospitality were, most opted for a more positive portrayal of hospitality in TV and media (36%). That was followed closely by work experience placements (31%) and ambassadors visiting schools (18%). Others suggested that better pay and working conditions would help. And one respondent highlighted the fact that although a positive portrayal of hospitality in TV and media would help, that portrayal also needed to be honest so that young people would know what they were expected to do and how they would be rewarded.

Opinion on what age bracket would be best when it comes to the hospitality industry to partner with schools to ensure that the sector was regarded as a destination of choice was very evenly split, but it was clear from the results that the majority thought that this should happen between the ages of 11 and 16.

Traditionally, women have not been well represented in senior management roles in hospitality, despite the fact that according to respondents of this survey, 66% agreed that it was an attractive career choice to women.

When asked what more could be done to encourage more women to into senior management, the top answer with 57% was more flexible working hours, followed by more promotion to women of the opportunities available (33%) and better pay in relation to male colleagues (29%).

There has been a raft of research recently within hospitality that points to the fact that more needs to be done to create more of a level playing field for employees. Research released by recruitment firm the Change Group earlier this month showed that male head waiters earn almost 20% or £4,300 more per year than their female counterparts. The gap exists despite the fact that women are increasingly dominant in front of house roles, with a review of six years of data from the Office of National Statistics as well as the Change Group database of candidate registrations showing that while women hold seven out of 10 chef de rang or waiter positions, men are still paid around £1,150 more per annum than women.