The UK hospitality industry offers a variety of career opportunities. Bob Cotton gives his advice on how to get a slice of the action

Britain attracts 16 million overseas visitors every year and tourism, hospitality and leisure are worth more than £110bn to the economy, providing two million jobs in some 300,000 establishments. Hospitality and tourism are the main - sometimes the only - economic generators in some regions of the country. But they are also key support elements in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, colleges, offices, factories and even the armed forces, where the provision of high-quality catering facilities is of paramount importance.

What's more, the industry continues to grow. In the last 15 months more than 220 hotels - representing 19,000 rooms - opened in the UK, the biggest period of hotel construction in the industry's history. Since 2002, over 74,000 rooms have opened and a further 40,000 new rooms are planned for the years running up to the 2012 Olympic Games.

Restaurants have made huge strides too. London is now widely regarded as one of the restaurant capitals of the world and there are over 130 Michelin-starred establishments in the UK; 20 years ago there were just a handful. This turnaround has been largely achieved by British chefs trained in British colleges. Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Gary Rhodes are household names, while Marcus Wareing, Chris Galvin, Angela Hartnett and Paul Heathcote are among the many other British names who are making the culinary headlines.

There is hardly a region of Britain that does not benefit from the tourism and hospitality industry, and it provides large-scale job and career opportunities. However, as an industry it suffers from severe skill and people shortages. Why is this? Research carried out by Springboard UK, the industry's recruitment and careers advisory organisation, tends to support anecdotal evidence: the image of long, unsociable hours, hard work and poor pay puts off many young people. However, the industry is changing rapidly. In fact, it offers skilled people a range of opportunities both in the UK and internationally: jobs in the kitchen, restaurant, front of house and backstage, as well as all manner of supervisory and management roles.

It doesn't stop there. A graduate can become a manager of a hotel, restaurant or leisure attraction in their early twenties. The manager of a top London hotel earns a six-figure sum; top chefs are equally well paid. Talented chefs and customer-service staff are in huge demand and all have the opportunity to work anywhere in the world. At the same time, many of the industry's traditional employment practices, such as split shifts, are disappearing. A five-day week is now commonplace and conditions of work can match the best across all industries.

Some of the work may not be easy: dealing with the public can try anyone's patience! Working in the kitchen can be hard work and you need to keep your wits about you at peak times in a busy restaurant. You also need a sharp sense of business: in almost every job in hospitality you need to use your initiative and common sense.

For those with a managerial bent there are more than 30 universities offering undergraduate education in various forms of hospitality and tourism. Few major companies now recruit people straight from school into their management development programmes. Students with an aptitude for craft skills can consider a growing number of colleges working with the newly established National Skills Academy for Hospitality. The Academy is run by a board made up of employers with the support of leading companies such as Barcelo hotels, Sodexo, InterContinental hotels, Travelodge, Accor hotels and McDonald's restaurants. Employers work with academy-recognised colleges and other centres to ensure learners get the development they require by providing masterclasses in practical skills, offering coaching and mentoring support and advising on curriculum development.

The best way of getting to know what the industry is all about is to take a part-time job in a hotel before you commit yourself to a college course. Working for just a few hours a week provides the opportunity to understand that the secret of success in any catering establishment is teamwork. And don't forget that you also need to love your customers: that way they'll love you too and keep you in business!

Bob Cotton is the chief executive of the British Hospitality Association,

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea