The Hospitality Sector remains amongst the biggest in the UK, but is often tarnished by a reputation for short-term contracts and high staff turnover. How can you have long-term success in the Hotel trade?
When you think of hotels, do you picture the frantic chaos of Fawlty Towers or the sexy gloss of recent BBC television series Hotel Babylon? Well, regardless of the truth that inspired both, the fact is that the UK’s hotel sector offers excellent opportunities for Armed Forces personnel looking for a civilian career that matches their abilities and experience.
THE HOTEL SECTOR
According to People 1st – the Sector Skills Council for the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industries – there may well be up to 30,000 establishments in the UK’s Hotel sector, ranging from the smallest budget hotels and privately run B&Bs to the grandest five-star hotels owned by multinational corporations. However, despite staffing levels and overall annual turnover remaining fairly constant at – respectively – some 247,100 people and over £10 billion, there has been a 6% drop in the overall number of establishments in the last five years – in contrast to other hospitality sectors such as restaurants, which saw a 16% increase in its workforce over the same period. Not that this drop is uniform across the sector: over there has been a 16% increase in hotels employing between 50 and 199 people, suggesting the increased success of medium-sized establishments at the expense of larger or smaller accommodation providers.
It is currently estimated that the UK Hotel sector employs some 247,100 people, 59% of whom are women, and 7% are foreign nationals (although this latter figure is subject to significant regional variation, particularly in London). Much of the workforce are also young (38% are aged 16 to 24), although 18% are over the age of 50. Some 61% of people in the sector are full-time employees, with nearly half of all staff working in ‘elementary’ occupations such as waiting, cleaning and bar work. Only 34% of staff have NVQ Level 3 or above; that said, the percentage of the Hotel workforce currently undergoing some job-related training – at 27% – is only one point down on the average across the whole UK workforce.
The Whitbread Hotel Group – which owns the Marriott and Premier Travel Inn chains – is the UK’s largest player in the UK, both in the number of hotels (505) and available rooms (37,148); this is significantly ahead of either InterContinental Hotels Group, owners of InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and Express by Holiday Inn chains (204 hotels; 29,053 rooms) and Hilton International (78 hotels; 16,044 rooms). Only 3% of those working in the industry are self-employed, suggesting it is not necessarily an industry for those wanting to be their own boss.
Although the Hotel sector is not growing to the extent of other sectors in the Hospitality, Leisure, Travel and Tourism industries, People 1st believes it shares the problem of potential growth being “hampered by ongoing recruitment problems”, although the degree of this varies across the UK – 11% of employers in England are reporting they have hard-to-fill vacancies, while in Scotland this figure rises to 40%. Invariably, a lack of required skills – both technical and practical – is said to be the main reason employers are having difficulty filling available positions, with even many current staff lacking the full skills required; while some 60% of employers in England and Scotland do provide staff training (43% in Wales), all this implies that individuals with both skills and experience in the Hotel sector will have far greater choice when it comes to finding employment.
HAVE PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE?
Because each of the Armed Forces has its own dedicated hospitality and catering staff – highly trained cooks who produce a wide range of meals, often under very difficult conditions; and mess managers, waiters and bar staff who manage what are effectively hotels – it is entirely possible that you will already have a real understanding of – and a real interest in – working in the hotel sector. Particularly if you’ve risen to become a PMC (President of the Mess Committee) or have some other supervisory appointment within the Services Mess system, you will not only have front-of-house experience of dealing with ‘customers’, but also the more general hospitality responsibilities – ordering of supplies and dealing with suppliers, the management of stockrooms, the preparation of rooms for special functions and the management of overall finances.
In recent years, many of the the Forces caterers and hospitality staff will increasingly deal with service providers contacted from outside; you may well have worked alongside your civilian counterparts, and so already have some understanding of the industry. You may also have chosen to gain professional qualifications in hospitality and the licensed retailing while still in the Forces, through distance learning.
Even if you don’t have previous hospitality experience, you can benefit from the people-focused nature of the sector; it’s an industry that recognises and rewards hard work, ability and a willingness to learn new skills. Although moving from one company to another isn’t uncommon, larger hotel chains in particular prefer to promote experienced staff from within their own organisations, although of course talented new blood is also welcome.
There are currently three main career routes in the hospitality industry:
Vocational: that is, getting into the hotel sector and learning whilst on the job. Large hotel groups will have their own training schemes through which you can gain new skills and they gain better skilled and performing staff. For instance, Jarvis Hotels not only runs its own national training programme (with courses ranging from customer care, food hygiene and first aid to IT, health & safety and management) but also encourages staff to consider external study (at all levels from NVQs and apprenticeships to specialist hotel and catering qualifications); currently, over two thirds of its hotels are accredited to the GovernmentÕs Investors In People (IiP) scheme.
Training programme run by a local college or training company; this is a particularly popular route in Northern Ireland, where relatively few employers organise their own training, and combines class-based learning with practical ‘on the job’ training.
Full-time college or university programme; these are particularly suited for those looking to move quickly into managerial or supervisory roles, which require HND/HNC, HCIMA (Hotel & Catering International Management Association) or degree level qualifications.
Almost two in five (38%) employees in the Hotel sector have either no qualifications at all or just entry level NVQ Level 1. That said, it can be difficult to quantify exactly how many of the existing qualifications are relevant to core occupations (ie, those that directly deliver the a hotel’s services) within the industry. While there are 143 hospitality and catering qualifications accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), only 29 of these (also accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Agency) are particularly relevant to the Hotel sector, covering: Reception; Residential Services; Housekeeping; Front Office Management; Front Office Supervision; Guest Service; Accommodation Supervision; and Porter Service.
Income clearly varies across the sector, depending on the size and overall turnover of the businesses. For those working in larger companies, however: waiters / bar staff £10K to £12K; trainee and assistant managers £13K to £18K, and managers £19K – £40K.
IS THE HOTEL SECTOR FOR YOU?
Hotels are, as we’ve already said, people-focused businesses. It’s therefore important that you’re the kind of person who not only wants to help other people, but also enjoys working with them. Significantly research by People 1st shows that communication and team-working skills are the most desired – and often felt to be most missing – across the whole hospitality sector, giving former members of the Armed Forces a significant advantage when it comes to having practical and demonstrable experience. Pressures in the hotel sector can be considerable; after all, it operates 24/7 and can entail the kind of work shift patterns that can have a serious affect on life outside of work. A friendly personality and a good sense of humour can also make a real difference to the working lives of yourself and your colleagues.
Those leaving the Armed Forces are also likely to have not only the technical and practical skills desired by the sector but also much-valued problem-solving and management skills. Particularly in managerial roles, the Hotel sector will be looking for people who can think on their feet, use personal initiative and take personal responsibility for their decisions. It is also an environment in which you have to know the rules, be they about health & safety, hygiene, disability awareness, or the sale of alcohol. New situations, changing customer requirements and developments in equipment and work procedures require a constant willingness to learn and adapt.
Above all, though, the Hotel sector is one that can reward people who are prepared to work hard developing their career. If you are enthusiastic, flexible, highly motivated and eager to learn new skills, then the Hotel trade could well be for you – and not a Basil Fawlty in sight!
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