We are very proud of our Ambassadors and how hard they work… this month we decided to shine our IoH Spotlight on our Saudi Ambassador; David Magee FIH.
Tell us a little bit about your career history in hospitality including your current role.
Shortly after leaving school aged 16, I joined a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) for Hospitality and Catering in Belfast, Northern Ireland – my hometown. Aged 18, I moved to London and worked at the Copthorne Tara Hotel, The Savoy and a few other hotels. I undertook my HCIMA at Westminster Kingsway College.
My career moved out of the kitchen and into management and training. This eventually led me to retrain as an English teacher. I was drawn towards working with young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), especially from deprived areas who had less life-opportunities. My job involved equipping students with the basic skills needed to transition from full-time education into training, employment and independent living. Due to my background and connections, this usually involved pathways to employment within hospitality.
In 1999/2000 I was given a Millennium Award for developing cross-community literacy projects along Belfast’s notorious Peace lines. The award consisted of a bespoke training program in educational project management. In 2003, in association with The Hilton Foundation, we set-up a programme (the first ever) specifically to train young people with autism to work in hospitality. Around that time, I also became the UK representative on the International Teacher’s Association and joined the UK’s Workplace basic Skills Unit.
From an early stage in my teaching career, I realised the importance of ensuring that especially vulnerable groups had good basic health and safety skills prior to entering training and work. This led me to set-up an NGO – OSH literacy.org. We offer free internationally accredited training courses, mainly aimed at high-risk groups, seeking employment within hospitality in developing countries. We also advocate for Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) to be recognised and taught as an essential skill in mainstream education. Over the years we have raised awareness of this issue globally, delivered thousands of free training courses and helped hundreds of young people gain employment and careers in hospitality. It is fully staffed by volunteers, who give their free time during school holidays. I also continue to work full-time in a vocational training centre in Saudi Arabia.
How has work been for you during the pandemic?
As the founder of a safety & health educational NGO it has also been extremely busy. With COVID-19 there has been a massive increase in the amount of safety and health products, services and information. We know that approximately 15% of any population has learning needs. Therefore, there is an urgent need to equip this demographic group with the skills needed to identify and decode safety and health information. Also, COVID has completely taken over everything and there is a risk that other aspects of workplace safety and health may be overlooked. Furthermore, a lot of our work is with NGOs who run Entry to Employment (E2E) programmes for vulnerable kids in developing countries. The pandemic has stopped everything. This is a serious matter for the future social and economic mobility prospects for these kids. We have been exploring avenues to keep these NGOs afloat.
What’s your top piece of advice for getting through such challenging times? Stay safe, keep calm and carry on. Live to fight another day.
What do you love most about the hospitality industry? The people. People who work in hospitality are hospitable people with great interpersonal skills. The kindness and guidance shown towards at-risk persons placed in hospitality positions around the globe never fails to impress me. It makes me proud to be a part of the hospitality profession.
You are the Saudi ambassador for IoH, why did you decide to take on this ambassador role?
Saudi Arabia is currently undergoing a massive social and economic development program, Saudi Vision 2030. The aim is to diversify their economy away from its dependency on oil and foreign workers. More than 70% of the population is under 30 years of age and women are now entering the workplace in large numbers.
Due to the Hajj and being the home of Islam, the west of the country already has a long-established tradition in tourism and hospitality. Diayafa (hospitality) is a serious matter of honour here. There are big plans, and massive investment, to expand the hospitality infrastructure country wide. There has also been a royal decree to fast-track Saudi nationals into management positions within hospitality.
As the IoH is ‘the professional body for managers and aspiring managers working and studying in the hospitality, leisure and tourism industry with more than 80 years of experience and a global network’, I thought it would be good for someone with my background to ‘give back’ something to a country that I have grown to love. Helping local training providers, employers and future hospitality managers realise the benefits of joining such a highly regarded international, hospitality-management educational organisation or ‘family’ is one small way we can help their burgeoning hospitality industry.
Tell us more about what being an ambassador involves.
As mentioned, for me the main role of an IoH Ambassador (and teacher) is to raise awareness of the benefits of joining such a prestigious, professional organisation – from networking opportunities with fellow hospitality professionals to the courses and extensive resources the IoH offers. At the moment, I am simply trying to network as much as possible. Obviously Covid-19 had a disastrous effect on the local industry too. So, there have been few meetings this year, but lots of emails and Zoom calls. We are also trying to strengthen our network throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
We know you have been working on a really interesting literacy project, could you tell us more about it?
OSH uses its own unique communication system comprised of different shapes, colours, symbols and terminologies. This literacy is comparable to any other literacy in this ‘Information-Age’ Several years ago, I founded a small NGO, www.oshliteracy.org to raise awareness of literacy-related safety issues in the workplace and to equip young people with the essential basic skills needed to decode safety information. We have several projects related to hospitality.
This year we were nominated for the UNESCO World Literacy Award by the UNESCO office in Ireland (run through the Irish Department of Education). Currently we are working with partners such as the ISSA Global Vision Zero Campaign (the IoH is also a partner), and the EU OSHA ‘Healthy Workplaces Campaign’.
How important are initiatives like this for our sector?
These initiatives are extremely important. Research has shown that most employers are unaware of the range of learning issues which may exist within their workforce – or among their customers. Most workplace accidents happen within the first twelve months of employment and there are especially vulnerable groups such as young people, migrants and people with S.E.N.D. These groups are also attracted to entry-level employment within hospitality.
Our outreach programmes have demonstrated that employers value potential employees who have internationally accredited safety qualifications such as: Food Hygiene, Health & Safety, Fire Safety, Manual Handling, First Aid etc., especially in English the international lingua-franca. Furthermore, employees who have had this training are less likely to have an accident. Few employers and managers are aware that they have legal responsibilities in this area. Social inclusion and equality Laws such as the Equality at Work Act, The European Racial Equality Directive(2000/43/EC) and the UN Convention on Human Rights all require for workplace communications to be inclusive. The European Directive on Safety Signs (92/58/EEC) states that ‘Workers must be informed of the measures to be taken and must be given appropriate training’ (precise instructions).
There is certainly a need to raise awareness of this issue within our industry and with future managers, especially in a post-corona, hyper-safety aware world. There is also a need for more collaboration between employers and educators to better prepare young people and future managers for work and training in hospitality. As a specialist educational and charitable organisation, I am proud to say that the IoH is leading the way in this.
How do hospitality skills help you in your role as an English language and literacy teacher?
Education, training and hospitality are all customer-centric careers. Teaching is basically customer service. We create and deliver learning experiences, catered to our learners’ needs. The interpersonal communication skills I developed in hospitality and catering and the ability to think on my feet and maintain a professional composure under extreme pressure, as well as dealing with ‘tricky customers’, has greatly benefited my teaching career.
Do you think there will be any positives for our industry when life returns to “normal”?
Yes. COVID-19 (and the Eat Out to Help Out campaign) has certainly demonstrated that we are social animals. I am confident that there will be a big rebound in our industry. History has shown us that after every major global disruptor event there is a rebound: WW1 and The Spanish flu led to the roaring 20’s, WW2 led to the massive post-war economic growth.
This year has created a lot of pent-up energies, which will hopefully explode in a resurgence in travel and hospitality. Personally, post COVID-19, I certainly won’t want to prepare and eat another home cooked meal for a very long time. I will treat myself and my family to a small holiday too. Many people around the globe are thinking the same thing. With careful planning and marketing to entice customers back, hopefully it will not be long until the industry is well on the road to recovery. It may be a long road, but working together and moving in the same direction, with the IoH and its Ambassadors in the vanguard, I am confident we will get there.
What’s been the most memorable day of your career so far?
From acting as a personal butler for Pavarotti, to serving royalty and working at the Olympics and teaching hospitality trainees in developing countries, hospitality has given this Belfast boy opportunities and experiences beyond his wildest dreams. As a teacher and trainer, I am committed to helping less fortunate young people have access to those same opportunities and experiences. So, for me, my best days are seeing young people, full of confidence and pride, begin their careers in hospitality.
Which elements of your IoH Fellowship do you find most valuable?
To have the post-nominals ‘FIH’ after my name is a valuable source of pride and confidence for me. Those three letters are also useful when I send out emails to hoteliers and training providers with regards to the IoH. They ensure that communications are read and usually replied to. People respect them, which is a priceless commodity these days.
How has being an IoH Member helped your career?
Belonging to an internationally respected professional institute and having letters after your name certainly makes a C.V. more appealing. There are also the networking opportunities that membership brings. However, for me personally, having access to the Institute’s library and resources, as well as advice from fellow members, has been invaluable in my hospitality and teaching career as well as my continuing academic and professional development.