Staffing the future industry: Students and industry leaders share insight

Undergraduate hospitality students joined industry leaders at the inaugural H&C EXPO at The Celtic Manor Resort in Wales last week to discuss the best way to staff the hospitality industry of the future.

According to a report by the British Hospitality Association (now UKHospitality) and KPMG carried out last year, the industry will need to find almost a million extra workers by 2029 to sustain its growth.

The biggest challenge currently facing hospitality employers is recruiting and retaining enough skilled staff, yet students on hospitality courses at college or university claim they struggle to find relevant roles and a high number (40% according to Springboard) don’t enter the industry upon completing their studies.

In Staffing the Future Industry Charlene Mckenzie, a third year undergraduate at Cardiff Metropolitan University put a series of questions to industry leaders Julie Barker, Brenda Collin, Danny Pecorelli and Adam Rowledge.

Representatives from The Institute of Hospitality, Springboard, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of South Wales also contributed to the discussion alongside a handful of undergraduate students.

Mckenzie asked employers what they were doing to make it clear they were hiring graduates as so often many struggle to find roles relevant to their skills.

Brenda Collin, managing director – Preferred Hotels & Resorts, UK, Ireland, Nordics and Netherlands, said many of her hotels used Linkedin to network with potential employees. She also recommended students find a mentor in the industry to help them navigate a career path.

Julie Barker, formerly accommodation & hospitality at the University of Brighton encouraged students to explore the world of hospitality and catering and not give up if a first role wasn’t right. “Our industry is so vast – from pubs and clubs to care home catering or managing events like Glastonbury, “ she said. “It’s finding out what part of the industry puts fire in your belly. If one area doesn’t suit you, try another.”

Danny Pecorelli, managing director of Exclusive Hotels & Venues whose company runs a graduate management programme, encouraged graduates to seek out employers offering supportive schemes and said it was up to both parties to make it a success.

“For us it’s really important that we put proper structure in so there’s actually development. Our role is to teach them to become managers. It’s a two-way process, so we ensure you have what you need.”

For students looking to work with independent businesses without graduate programmes, the advice was to be prepared to work hard and carve out the career you want.

“It’s about being clear about what you’re signing up to. You are unlikely to go straight into a management role,” said Adam Rowledge, general manager of Georgian House hotel in London.

“One of the important life lessons is that nobody is going to care more about your career than yourself, so be prepared to work hard to make your own career path,” agreed Peter Ducker, chief executive of the Institute of Hospitality, who said that while smaller companies may not have structured programmes, there is more of a chance to make a difference.

Do your research

Pecorelli advised job-seekers to carry out thorough research on a prospective employer before applying for a job to ensure they are happy with the company culture.

Rowledge agreed and offered this top tip:

Students also quizzed employers on what makes them more appealing to employers.

Collin said she encourages job seekers she mentors to consider the three ‘ps’  – presentation, personality and pitch. “Do research and be prepared, don’t let yourself down on that point,” she said. “Once you are selected for interview don’t be afraid to use your personality and get your pitch right for the organisation.”

Barker advised students to gain experience in the industry through part-time work or a placement before entering it full-time to show employers they had experience, but also for their own benefit.

“Students need to be work-ready. Do work experience. So many times I hear graduates say the industry wasn’t what they expected it to be,” she said.

There was a consensus that employers were less interested in what students had covered in specific modules and university and were more interested in development of soft skills and a willingness to learn on the job.

Ducker said attitude was as important as qualifications: “You can teach skills, but if you have the right attitude it will help make your career more successful.”

Other topics included whether colleges and universities were helping students find jobs and arming them with the right skills and whether placement years were of benefit to both job-seekers and employers.

Employers were also asked by students why they didn’t use traditional job boards such as Indeed to advertise roles. They agreed that applying direct to an employer was the best route to landing the job they wanted and encouraged a personal approach to land the job of their dreams.

“This is a great industry and there are always going to be jobs there, you just have to look in the right place for them,” said Pecorelli.