Talent development in hospitality is no longer a nice-to-have

Hospitality professionals need hard and soft skills, writes Benoît-Etienne Domenget, CEO of Sommet Education Hospitality, and it is time for employers to rethink their approach to training

The travel industry accounts for one in 10 jobs on the planet and is forecast to rise to one in nine by 2028. By then, hospitality will account for over 400 million jobs worldwide. 

Little surprise then that hospitality professionals, and their employers, need to reconsider their approach to talent development to help them take advantage of the opportunities, of which there are many. 

When we think of hospitality, we often think of the most visible public-facing staff working in hotels and restaurants, but actually this ever-growing profession means an increasing need for supporting skills in areas such as finance, human resources, marketing, leadership, owner management, corporate governance, entrepreneurship, and innovation and technology, and there are different approaches to learning on the job.

When students arrive at Glion and Les Roches, our two hospitality management schools, they very often receive a rude awakening. Sure, they are studying to become the next generation of industry leaders. But this doesn’t mean they simply jump past the practical side and go straight to learning how to manage a hotel or restaurant. In their first semester they all get to clean rooms, wait at tables and chop carrots in the kitchen. Why? Because these are the building blocks of experience which will enable them to manage the teams that perform such functions in their hotels and restaurants.

This is a time of unprecedented career opportunities for anyone who has the skills the industry seeks

It would pay for hospitality professionals at all levels to keep this concept of building blocks in mind, as they grow their careers in the industry. Because make no mistake, this is a time of unprecedented career opportunities for anyone who has the skills the industry seeks. The drivers for growth are everywhere. The world is better connected than ever, opening up travel and leisure opportunities that were unthinkable a generation or two ago. In addition, travel and tourism is increasingly seen as a winning formula for developing countries, as well as governments seeking to diversify economies away from dependence on natural resources.

So how can ambitious hospitality professionals acquire the hard and soft skills to step up the career ladder? As an example, let’s focus on the hotel general manager (GM) who sits at the heart of any successful hospitality operation. As hotels and resorts multiply, so does the need for high-quality GMs to run them. And when those excellent GMs move up to area manager or COO roles, still further vacancies will be created.

It won’t be enough just to try to fill GM roles by poaching from the competition – and in any case that is a risky and expensive game to play. Instead, hotel operators need to look to ‘grow their own’: to identify the operational department heads (rooms division, front-of-house, etc) who can be given the tools to step up successfully.

One size doesn’t fit all

This is not some vague notion of ‘lifelong learning’. It requires a highly focused, skills-driven approach centred on a specific talent development/succession planning challenge. Hotel GMs need a portfolio of skills to do their job effectively. This includes ‘soft’ skills such as leadership, change management and relationship building. Equally it must incorporate ‘hard’ business skills like asset and revenue management (RM), strategic business planning, and so on. Sommet Education’s new Global Talent Development portfolio is our way of addressing the need to develop specific skills within the hospitality industry. This includes a learning pathway to hotel GM called ‘Master the Gap’. We recognise that each individual within an organisation will have different skills gaps and it is not effective to throw a one-size-fits-all package at them.

Each individual within an organisation will have different skills gaps and it is not effective to throw a one-size-fits-all package at them

Adopting a bespoke, portfolio approach to talent development means companies are not forced to over-invest in particular individuals. It also avoids having to combine useful learning with covering repeated – or unnecessary – ground just because it comes with the package. Bespoke learning is crucial to fostering the building block approach we refer to. And it represents an investment worth making, particularly for the millennial generation, which now accounts for the largest portion of the global workforce. 

We are constantly told that millennial employees are inveterate job-hoppers, but this is a misconception. According to a survey commissioned by Bridge, 86% of millennials said that providing career training and development would maintain their loyalty. Moreover, in the United States at least, government data indicates that millennials are no less loyal as employees than their GenX forebears. 

So, if the case for a strategic approach to talent management is virtually unanswerable, how do you identify the skills gaps that need filling? There’s a big obligation on the individual employee to plot and lead their own learning journey. Equally, organisations need to put somebody in charge of those journeys, to work with the employees to prioritise and deliver on their training needs.

In hospitality, we expect our people to make an emotional connection with customers and guests. The other side of that coin is that learning and development professionals need to offer the same level of personal interaction and understanding to their fellow employees. Ultimately, if you don’t look after the developmental needs of your people, then someone else will.

Benoît-Etienne Domenget is CEO of Sommet Education, a group encompassing the prestigious Swiss hospitality management schools Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches Global Hospitality Education

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