Never before has the hospitality industry faced such a large-scale and systemic talent crisis. Here are three things to do ‘before it’s too late.’

As a double immigrant who worked his way through high school and university, I’m a big believer in the lifelong benefits of working on the front line of a service business, early in life.

One of my first jobs was front-line in the retail sector working at one of the biggest sports stores in Toronto. This job taught me how to work with diverse colleagues and adjust to the grueling demands of store managers trying to hit their numbers while handling dissatisfied customers wanting a better deal. After an initial test period, the store manager, a tough but fair French Canadian who loved the sports retail business, allocated his staff according to their talents, moving us around to the departments where we performed best. He also had an eye for talent, and he was particularly interested in quick learners who could conquer a complex department like ski equipment or hockey skates and outsell others.

Looking back, he managed an informal talent marketplace, in one of the world’s most diverse cities, extremely well. It was an incredibly diverse meritocracy: Jamaican kids rose from selling track shoes to managing winter sports and women moved from apparel to assistant manager roles overseeing budgets and purchasing.

Later, when I worked in large management consulting firms such as Deloitte, I learned that’s not the way most businesses work. In large organizations, people belong to camps or fiefdoms led by barons. The barons control the talent (“their team”) and seldom adopt new clan members. If the leader of your clan is ascending, you move up. If he or she is not, you don’t and at the extreme, could be eliminated. If there is a change in senior management or control, all bets are off: one clan wins and the other is either pushed aside or sent home.