Fairhurst, who has been People 1st vice-chairman for two years, is vice president, chief people officer at McDonald's Restaurants UK & Northern Europe, where he has responsibility for the delivery for HR training, education, customer services and environmental strategy.
He succeeds current chairman Don Davenport, who has been appointed president of People 1st in recognition of his commitment to the organisation over many years.
Brian Wisdom, chief executive of People 1st, said Fairhurst's appointment sets a new focus on the organisation's development programme to transform skills in the run up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.
"David has impeccable credentials and significant experience in developing people-focused agendas and is passionate in his commitment to the development of qualifications and training. His leadership will be of enormous benefit to People 1st," he said.
Fairhurst added: "The hospitality sector, with its job creation and continued investment in training, is showing the rest of the country how to emerge from the downturn. More than that, it is the key industrial platform for social mobility in Britain today, providing a genuine meritocracy for people development."
He said that as chairman of People 1st, he is committed to accelerate and increase the qualifications available to entrants to the hospitality industry.
"A more skilled workforce will be essential to take advantage of the growth opportunity offered by London 2012 and to ensure hospitality and tourism continues to be a huge driver of our economy," he said.
By Janie Stamford
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