The standard of entries was so high at this year's Best Places to Work in Hospitality awards that judges were unable to choose an outright winner for Excellence in Training, and so they gave the award jointly to QHotels and InterContinental London Park Lane. Daniel Thomas looks at their approach to training and developing staff.
The economic slowdown has increased the pressure on hospitality operators to ensure that they offer the best possible levels of customer service and that can only be delivered by highly trained staff.
The industry certainly appears to have grasped the nettle when it comes to training, if the entries to this year's Best Places to Work in Hospitality awards were anything to go by. They were so strong that the judges were unable to choose an outright winner for Excellence in Training, and so they gave the award jointly to QHotels and InterContinental London Park Lane.
At QHotels, the 21-strong four-star chain, training is central to overall strategy. It has dedicated HR functions at each hotel in addition to a group training team to develop employees. The training calendar offers more than 40 courses of generalist and specialist training for all levels, delivered in-house or through external providers.
Stand-out programmes include a bespoke development course for deputy general managers in which certain modules are delivered by company directors, and which includes a trip to the Cornell Hotel School in Brussels; and a 14-month chef academy programme that spans five workshops, supplier and market visits and leads to a Level 2 NVQ Apprenticeship in Professional Cookery.
For Nichola Roskell, director of HR at QHotels, winning the award was recognition of "the real commitment that we have in training and developing our team".
"We're particularly proud that the award is a result of direct feedback from our team," she says. "I think the judges saw that, through the training and development activities and initiatives that we have in place, as well as the feedback from the questionnaires, the genuine passion and commitment that we have within the business, right from the top down, to strive for improvement, to keep challenging what we do and encouraging everyone to want to be the very best."
The commitment to training has not been dented by the recession, according to Roskell, although she admits that it has focused minds on creating real value.
QHotels is not just focused on internal training - it plays an active role in supporting schools and colleges, reveals Roskell.
"We are supporting launch of the Hospitality Diploma, and now have 30 Diploma Champions who are involved in activity in their local area," she says. "We also recognise that this is a challenging time for young people, and have increased the placement opportunities that we have. We are also starting to develop graduate programmes, and will be launching our first graduate course later this year."
INTERCONTINENTAL LONDON PARK LANE
The Intercontinental London Park Lane takes training equally as seriously as QHotels. Training is delivered by both in-house and external providers, and includes some innovative modules, including one that supports the multi-cultural guest profile by offering country-specific cultural training to help staff relate better to Japanese and Middle Eastern guests.
All new staff at InterContinental London Park Lane go through an "associate journey" with a two-day orientation to begin with, followed by a 30-day training plan. If they pass all the training tests they then "graduate" after 90 days. But it doesn't stop there - all staff have at least four hours of off-the-job training per month.
Caron Jones, director of HR at the 450-room property, attributes the hotel's success in training to keeping things simple.
"We look at what the business needs and what the guest wants," she says.
"Competition in London is getting tougher, with a continuous ‘talent war', so our HR strategy is all about that guest welcome. Great customer service is no longer good enough; it's got to be a personal service."
The Intercontinental London Park Lane will be one of the major accommodation providers during the 2012 London Olympics and this creates its own training challenges, admits Jones.
"The Olympics will bring a huge surge of nationalities, so we are looking at doing some online language courses," she says. "We are part of the IOC booking, so we need staff to realise what that means. The idea is that everyone will be a concierge - knowing directions to the venues, for example."
Awards such as Best Places To Work do a great deal to raise the profile of the hospitality industry, particularly as they are based on the input of employees, according to Jones.
"With more graduates out there making decisions about what industry to choose, that is vital," she says.
All new staff at the Intercontinental go through a two-day orientation, followed by a 30-day training plan, and at least four hours of off-the-job training per month
WHY ARE INTERCONTINENTAL LONDON PARK LANE AND QHOTELS BEST PLACES TO WORK?
This year Caterer invited employees of the nominated companies to comment on why their employer was a Best Place to Work in Hospitality. We round up some of the views of the staff:
INTERCONTINENTAL LONDON PARK LANE
â- "My organisation provides excellent support and learning opportunities for someone at the start of their career, such as myself. My development and growth is positively encouraged and my managers go a long way to ensure I can move upwards in the organisation. I intend to stay with InterContinental for a long time."
â- "The organisation is very people-focused; more so than any other I have worked in. It looks after its staff first, who in turn look after the guests. There is a great environment here, where everyone is committed to making a difference."
â- "I have never worked for a company that provides as much training as QHotels. I have been on seven separate courses and I have only been here six months. It doesn't only benefit my work, but also me personally, with courses such as first aid."
â- "When I started work I was surprised to see how much is invested in employee development. There are various in-house and external training courses available on a regular basis to all employees. There are various recognition schemes in place and employees are encouraged to use their own initiative and apply their ideas in the workplace."
DON'T LEAVE LEARNING TO CHANCE
Confidence grows when workers "know what they're doing". Employers should create a learning experience for staff every day. Reward success, give feedback when lack of knowledge may hamper a person's effectiveness, and track their progress and improvement as a matter of course. It's a worthwhile investment.