British must stop confusing service with servility, says Travelodge chief executive Grant Hearn
I've done almost every job in hospitality and that's why I love it - every day is different. But whereas I trained on the job and then moved on, not enough young workers feel they have a genuine chance of a good career in the sector these days and decide not to stay with us.
I'm convinced we could become a top-three UK sector, but the question is whether we have the talent and skills to make this a reality.
Travelodge will open a new hotel every eight days for the next five years, creating hundreds of management and supervising roles. But these jobs are dramatically different from those in which I learnt my trade. It's now more of a retail business, yet what are colleges producing? We never recruit from hotel courses because the students aren't prepared with the budget sector in mind.
We can offer young, ambitious people responsibility if they have the aptitude and ambition, but what about the skills for the job?
Britain has never been good at customer service. We still suffer from the upstairs-downstairs hangover, where service is confused with servility. But how much longer can we rely on imported labour to sustain our growth, or antipodeans to provide the relaxed and confident service needed today?
Public perception of a career in the hospitality sector is still largely negative, and we must change this. But we also have the right to expect more assistance from Government. Where is the leadership for the 2012 Olympics? Has anyone heard from Sandra Scott, the appointed skills champion for the games?
The Government also estimates its spend on hospitality training is £250m annually. Can anyone believe that?
Still, it's not all bad. The government recently gave Mayor Livingstone new powers to develop a skills and employment plan for London. I sit on this board with a mandate to make the case for the capital's hospitality industry.
I want to hear your views, opinions and ideas regarding staffing, skills, training and recruitment so I can push our case with the mayor and the education minister.
• Tell Grant Hearn what you think about this issue on the Caterer blog. Go to www.caterersearch.com/skills.