"We're an industry that is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If we can't be flexible then who can be?"
Those were the words of Serena von der Heyde, owner of the Georgian House Hotel in London, speaking at the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin this week.
Along with Meininger HR director Clare Gates, Aethos Consulting Group managing director Chris Mumford and Paul Griep, lecturer at Hotelschool The Hague, the group was discussing how the hospitality industry can find and nurture hospitality talent.
Von der Heyde said the industry needs to "make sure that our education and qualifications are meaningful qualifications and people value those qualifications", and tell young people how quickly they can progress in the sector. Gates added that courses need to be "relevant to now" and need to be flexible and online.
He added that, while hospitality qualification application numbers are healthy, students can feel "like a number" when they enter into work placements, and tend to fall off at this point. "It needs to be emphasised to students what they can go on to accomplish."
He suggested the hotel industry of the future needs students with a basic knowledge of technology, and that while hoteliers of the past were go-getting alpha personalities, the industry needs more 'beta' hoteliers of the future with analytical skills.
Gates argued that everyone understands technology to an extent and that, for more in-depth knowledge, a specialist is required. "If I need a data scientist I will hire a data scientist," she said. "I need someone highly engaged and focused on the guest and comfortable using technology. If I want a data person, finance person, I will recruit these skills."
However von der Heyde pointed out that in a small, independent operation like hers, they do not have the capacity to recruit a specialist data analyst, and staff need to be multi-skilled.
The conversation turned to millennials. Like anyone, Gates said, millennials want to have purpose, feel valued, and feel rewarded for the work they do.
Von der Heyde pointed out that there was a need to have a "new perspective" on work flexibility through the generations. "We have to have a different mind set and think much more flexibly," she said, and encouraged employers to think outside the box and look on websites specialising in women returning to work or people looking for part-time work, for example.
All panellists agreed that the industry needs to think differently about how it approaches recruitment and staff retention. Von der Heyde gave examples of how she had used apps and games to teach kitchen hygiene, offered pilates and English lessons to staff, and in an effort to retain older members of staff had reduced their hours or moved them into less physically taxing roles, all of which had improved their staff satisfaction and retention.
She pointed out in particular that the sector is "haemorrhaging half the talent and skills" by not encouraging mothers back into the workplace, when nearly 60% of the sector's workforce is female. She said her hotel 'buddies up' mothers returning to work with women who have already been through maternity leave and returned.
"We don't have to work in the ways that we're traditionally thinking. Look at other industries and what they do," said Gates.
She emphasised that sometimes, methods of staff retention could come from staff themselves: "Don't assume you're going to nail wellness with yoga on a Friday. You have to start talking to your staff on a regular basis and if you're going to ask them, listen."
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