Last updated: 21.11.18

Young People in Hospitality: Catering and Hospitality as a Career

Many young people work in hospitality, but there is a notable gulf between their perceptions of the sector and the potential career opportunities which it offers.

This may be understandable to an extent, for many youngsters will take on such jobs as part-time or weekend work, perhaps while at school or college. At this point, their ambitions will be directed elsewhere, and their work will simply be a means to an end of earning some money in the here and now.

However, this can lead to a deeper misconception that this is all hospitality is about - that any role in the sector will only be a job and not part of a long-term career.

A myriad of misconceptions

This common view was highlighted by the UK Hospitality Workforce Commission 2030 report, published in September 2018. It reported the anecdotal evidence supplied by its Youth UK ambassador, Courtney Avery, about the negative perception of hospitality and catering among the young. The prevailing image was of a sector in which both skill levels and pay are low, making it a poor prospect for a long-term career choice. Others simply see it as dull and lacking in variety.

In fact, there are ample opportunities for careers to develop. The report cites the example of Whitbread, one of the firms that has pressed for the potential opportunities to be highlighted more. A quarter of its managers started out as apprentices, demonstrating that it is eminently possible to begin at a low level and rise up through the ranks.

Allied to this was the concern that the poor reputation of the industry resulted in low retention rates. With the Commission noting that the industry will seek to create 66,000 new jobs and as many as 200,000 apprenticeships over the next five years, something clearly needs to be done about the misconceptions of catering and hospitality.

Ideas for influence

In response, the report recommended that a "cross-industry national campaign to eliminate negative perceptions of hospitality careers" and a schools outreach programme should be instigated to help dispel the myths about hospitality and catering as a career choice. It also suggested appointing 'industry ambassadors' and seeking to influence a range of opinion formers among the young, from parents to the government.

The Commission's report is not the only case where this common misconception has been identified. A survey by the Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) found that only 22 per cent of those aged 16-21 would consider a career in the hospitality sector. In addition, 26 per cent said they did not consider hospitality and catering as a sector anyone would wish to work in after obtaining a degree.

The extent of the misconceptions uncovered in the survey stretched to showing that 19 per cent of those surveyed did not know that a hospitality career could involve roles related to disciplines such as finance, engineering, law or HR.

Vice-president of human resources, Europe and global functions at IHG, Elaine Grell said: “These results highlight just how important it is that young people get real life, on-the-job experience so they can fully understand how varied and exciting a career in hospitality can be.

"A hotel is a complex business with responsibility for a large team and big budgets. Yet a lot of people make assumptions based on what they may see as they only see from a guest’s perspective.”

New approaches to attract millennials

The answer to these perception issues could be a different approach to recruitment, according to hotel firm, Placed.

Like IHG, Placed said that part of the solution lies in allowing young people to shadow staff and learn more directly about the variety of the roles involved, but it also emphasised the need for better communication. Social media was highlighted as an obvious place to take the message that there is more to hospitality than generally perceived.

Another suggestion was the use of more incentives than pay alone, with Placed having a scheme for staff that enables them to stay in its hotels all over the world. Thus, a career in hospitality could begin by fulfilling a major ambition for many young people - that of travelling to some far-flung places - which exists independently from their career goals.

Even the recruitment itself could be different, the blog suggests, with a streamlined process that bypasses the normal drawn-out application and interview sequence and instead goes for face-to-face meetings in a manner more akin to speed dating.

Only time would tell whether this 'speed dating' approach or the promise of a hotel room will get millennials to fall in love with hospitality as a career, but the fact that we need to better engage with young people and challenge misconceptions being widely acknowledged may be the catalyst for positive change.

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