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Why hospitality is just the job

'Why hospitality is just the job.' Philippe Rossiter writes for M&C Report

There are a number of specific reasons why hospitality is an attractive career choice for young people today. Read Philippe Rossiter’s opinion piece as published in the September 2012 issue of M&C Report.

The industry’s primary response to its recruitment challenges has been to employ non-UK citizens. However, new immigration restrictions plus relatively high domestic youth unemployment make attracting more home-grown talent not only a sensible idea but a growing imperative. 

However, the results of a recent survey by livebookings.com into young peoples’ attitudes to working in hospitality were widely reported as negative.  The research found that out of 1,000 young adults (16-24yrs) questioned, 43% said that they would not consider a career in hospitality.

The lack of status and poor image of hospitality amongst most parents, teachers and careers advisors has been a persistent bug-bear for our industry.   But we are not alone.  Almost every other vocational type of industry, including engineering and construction, suffers in the same way because it is indoctrinated into children from a very young age that academic careers are better than vocational careers.  This is also the case in many other countries, but there are exceptions; vocational training is highly valued in Germany and parts of Asia, for example. 

Although the reasons for this attitude in Britain are cultural and deep-seated, current economic conditions are creating the basis for a shift in favour of vocational careers.  The Government’s renewed focus on apprenticeships is one example of this and there are a number of compelling reasons why hospitality today is arguably more attractive than it has ever been.

Firstly, unlike many areas of the UK economy, hospitality and the eating-out sector in particular, is a growth industry. Restaurants experienced a high increase in their workforces between 2004 and 2010.  Some 147,000 new positions were created during that period and forecasts by the Sector Skills Council People 1st expect this growth to continue.  In addition, the tally of job creation announced by major hospitality employers in recent months has been impressive. Hilton Worldwide, Accor, Whitbread, IHG, McDonalds and De Vere have all announced significant numbers of new UK jobs to be created over the next few years. 

Secondly, a significant characteristic of our industry is that its 260,000 establishments are spread throughout the UK, making it a contributor to the wealth of every single local authority in the country.  This means it is able to provide local jobs for local people.  It is therefore very important that the promotion of hospitality as a career choice is conducted at a local level so that young people can become familiar with the employers in their area and local businesses obtain the staff they require. Although our industry is notoriously fragmented, it also has some very big national and global players such as those mentioned above, who are well-placed to act as ambassadors.

Thirdly, this autumn for the first time, university tuition fees rose to a maximum of £9,000 a year at English universities compared to around £3,000 previously and total UK applications are down by 7.4 per cent.  Some young people are clearly looking for alternatives to higher education.  Hospitality’s low barriers to entry mean that there are roles for everyone, with or without qualifications. There are plenty of examples of major industry leaders who started their careers washing pots or waiting on tables.  One such figure is Sir David Michels, president of the Institute of Hospitality, who as a youth was fired from a waiting job at Simpsons-in-the-Strand for mistakenly pouring Brown Windsor soup into coffee cups.  This comical mishap had no bearing on his subsequent rise up the corporate ladder which culminated in the remarkable £4b merger of Hilton International and Hilton Hotels Corporation in 2006.  

Given the increased cost of higher education in England, there is some evidence that A level students are gravitating towards qualifications with a clear route into employment.  At the University of West London, the number of students enrolled in hospitality and tourism management degrees increased this year.  In 2011 only 7.7 per cent of UK hospitality management graduates were found to be unemployed six months after graduation.   This gives colleges and universities a sound basis to promote such degrees as education for employment.  The message to students is ‘you will get a job.’

Returning to the livebookings.com survey, interpretation of the results depends to what extent you are a glass full/ glass empty person, but the positive news, surely, is that nearly six out of ten (57%) young people questioned would consider working in hospitality.

At a time in their lives when the world is their oyster and they could potentially pursue any career path or professional aspiration - including becoming a footballer, ballet dancer, pop star or actress -  the fact that 57% of young people would consider working in hospitality, a sector that accounts for 8% of total UK employment, sounds like a reasonable result. 

That is not to say there is any room for complacency when it comes to our collective need to promote hospitality as a career of choice.  Trying to attract school leavers to our industry is leaving it too late. That is why a number of schemes are aiming to educate and influence school children about the variety of opportunities that hospitality offers.
• The Springboard Ambassador programme trains those who are passionate about our industry to give careers presentations in schools. Winners of the Acorn Awards and the Olive Barnett Awards can provide compelling case studies of the success they have enjoyed while still young.
• The Academy of Culinary Arts operates an Adopt-a-School scheme that sees chefs go into classrooms.  
• A primary school restaurant project led by Fred Sirieix and Vivek Singh and sponsored by Westbury Street Holdings is another example, with the potential to become a national programme. 
More financial support for such schemes would raise awareness and improve the image of our sector.

Certainly, it is concerning that nearly a third of young people questioned in the livebookings survey felt hospitality was not forward-looking and 20 per cent that it wouldn’t make the most of their technology skills and knowledge of the internet and social media.

Despite a number of excellent initiatives, the message still needs to reach pupils, parents and careers advisors that hospitality today offers a very wide range of employment opportunities.  Not only is there a need for chefs, waiters and receptionists, but for professionally-qualified employees in IT, online distribution, revenue management, web-analytics, real estate and acquisitions, branding and sales and marketing.

Philippe Rossiter FIH is the Chief Executive of the Institute of Hospitality.

The above article appears in the September 2012 edition of M&C Report.