Scotland has a reputation for fantastic produce and beautiful backdrops, so no wonder tourism bodies aim to significantly improve its international reputation. Emily Manson explores how Scottish hospitality can tackle its skills shortage and develop into a premier destination
Of course there were always some operations that were doing it well, but there were too many that weren't. Over the past 10 years more and more Scottish chefs have woken up to the realisation that they have some of the world's best produce on their doorstep, and it's crazy not to use it.
The industry has undergone nothing short of a culinary revolution, but it needs to do even more to compete on the world stage. Bodies such as VisitScotland, HIT Scotland, People 1st and Skills for Scotland - to name only a few - have realised that joined-up thinking and long-term strategies are essential for the industry's growth and prosperity.
So what started with years themed around homecoming, food and drink, active Scotland, creative Scotland and natural Scotland will shortly lead on to 2014, when the second Homecoming (marking the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn), Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will all take place.
This is a challenge and an opportunity in itself, but many of the key bodies are already looking beyond the 2014 timeline to the goals set out last year in the Tourism Leadership Group's strategy document Tourism Scotland 2020: The future of our industry, in our hands, which aims to make Scotland the first-choice destination in the world.
So what are the key areas that need to be enhanced and developed to ensure that the Scottish industry makes the most of its assets and achieves its goals?
Industry Image Scotland's hospitality industry needs to draw great people in, and to do that it must keep improving the attractiveness of the sector, warns David Allen, director of Scotland at People 1st.
"People know the hours are long and the other stereotypical things about our industry," says David Cochrane, chief executive of HIT Scotland, "but what people really want to know is that they will have a career path and will be developed if they join our industry."
Lawrence Durden, tourism sector manager at Skills Development Scotland, agrees. "We are still struggling against quite a negative image, and although it has improved, we still need to do more," he says.
Willie MacCleod, executive director of BHA Scotland, says this explains the phenomenon of jobs being filled by non-Brits. "It stems from the fact that the resident population don't see the industry as offering worthwhile and satisfactory careers," he says. Though this is a perception they are trying to change.
Management and Leadership To improve an image, though, the reality also has to improve, and that can only be delivered from the top. Recent research from People 1st found that 46% of managers in hospitality do not have any formal training or have inadequate qualifications for their positions.
"This creates problems, not only with day-to-day management of the operation but also in the long term," says Allen. "These managers are responsible for training up the next generation. How can they do that if they themselves aren't properly trained?"
Recent years have seen several schemes evolve, including the International Leadership School and HIT scholarships, to help build the top-down improvements needed.
Skills and Training Skills shortages have long been an issue throughout the hospitality hierarchy. While, generally speaking, large corporations have big personal development and training budgets and are currently coping relatively well, it's the smaller independent operators who often really need to invest in training and development - at a time when they can, perhaps, least afford it.
Durden and Allen suggest that these operators quickly tap into dedicated websites and programmes such as www.uksp.co.uk - a one-stop shop for career development and training in the sector; www.ourskillsforce.co.uk and Skills' Development Scotland's flexible training opportunities fund; and modern apprenticeships - of which 3,000 were completed â¨last year.
Durden says: "This is one of Scotland's best-kept secrets. It pays up to 50% of training costs - up to £5,000 - for operations with up to 150 staff."
Cochrane adds a word of warning. The younger generation's aptitude for technology means that employers can no longer pay lip service to training and development, as candidates now research jobs and employment practices through social media. "Broken promises will be highlighted," he says.
Attracting staff The variety of jobs provided by the industry needs to be increasingly highlighted, Cochrane points out, calling for employers to remember that "not everyone wants to be a pilot. The hospitality industry needs 'ground crew' too, be it 21-year-olds, accountants, HR specialists, 40-year-olds with kids at school or IT experts- there are jobs that can fit in with their lifestyle and expertise."
"But it's too often tarred with the brush of subservience, not service," explains MacCleod. "We need to show there are great opportunities for youngsters, women returners, older people and those with technical experience."
Working closely with JobCentres, careers advisers and parents will help this goal, while there are also now industry conversion programmes targeting declining sectors and redundancies where there are transferrable skills, adds Allen.
Customer Service and Welcome Research by People 1st found that 60% of Scottish operators recognise that customer service needs to be improved. People 1st has already been involved in implementing the customer service programme WorldHost (imported from Canada in 2011) which has licensed 50 trainers so far, but extra touches will help differentiate Scotland from its touristic rivals, says MacCleod.
To create the best possible impression for new visitors it's important to consider cultural differences, he notes. "Staff need to be trained to put in place little touches that recognise the needs of Chinese, Indian or North American guests through attention to service and customer care," MacCleod says.
Operations failing to do this will be caught out, warns Allen. "Businesses need to wake up to the fact that the future of Scotland will be determined substantially by next summer. The ones blind to the importance of customer service will be caught out, especially in the long term."
Learn from others Additionally, MacCleod advises operators to seek out the dedicated teams and regional directors that are all providing advice on opportunities to tap into the 2014 events.
Cochrane says operators should look further than the hospitality sector. "We need to look at what top technology and service industry operators do and bring that back to our industry," he says.
That includes bringing people in from the retail sector and declining local industries where skills are easily transferrable. Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, says: "The retail industry has a particularly close fit to hospitality in terms of customer experience, product knowledge and skills, and we need to tap into it."
"I WISH" TRAINING
Springboard works across Scotland with students, school leavers and the unemployed to introduce them to careers in hospitality. One project in the Highlands and Islands has the sole aim of getting unemployed locals into hospitality through a five-week "I WISH" (Inter Work in Scottish Hospitality) training programme.
Usually led by employer request, candidates are found through agencies, including JobCentre Plus, Skills Development Scotland, local councils and outreach programmes.
The course provides training to become work-ready as well as certificates in food hygiene, health and safety, first aid, customer care and personal licence certification and concludes with a two-week work placement.
Jenifer Cameron, regional operations manager for Springboard, says: "This is key, and helps remove distrust for candidates and employers in a try-before-you-buy placement."
During the three-year programme 184 out of the 321 people the scheme has trained have found full-time employment.
Cameron adds: "Tourism is the biggest single employer in this area but there has long been a disconnect, and this helps bridge the gap. It has huge economic benefits."