Enter the business of leisure

Coffee shops, bars, clubs, hotels and gyms vie for our downtime - and the cream of the graduate crop. Kate Hilpern reports

Traditionally, one of the biggest turn-offs to pursuing a career in the hospitality and leisure sector has been the unsociable hours. But according to new research by Springboard, the specialist careers and education service for the industry, a staggering 78 per cent of young people say they are willing to work weekends and a further 65 per cent are happy to work shifts. For many, flexible hours are preferable to the conventional nine-to-five slog. The report found that 69 per cent of respondents were eager to work with the public, whilst 42 per cent were not keen on being wholly office-based.

Traditionally, one of the biggest turn-offs to pursuing a career in the hospitality and leisure sector has been the unsociable hours. But according to new research by Springboard, the specialist careers and education service for the industry, a staggering 78 per cent of young people say they are willing to work weekends and a further 65 per cent are happy to work shifts. For many, flexible hours are preferable to the conventional nine-to-five slog. The report found that 69 per cent of respondents were eager to work with the public, whilst 42 per cent were not keen on being wholly office-based.

Anne Pierce, chief executive of Springboard says, "In the past our efforts to promote the sector have literally involved pulling it up from the gutter because it was seen as a last resort industry. But our latest studies show that people's perceptions are much more positive".

If you thought hospitality simply equals hotels and restaurants, think again. "While they play a huge part in the industry, there are so many variations of size and type and there are also lots of careers in coffee shops, pubs, bars, night clubs and food service management. Pubs and bars, in particular, are looking for people who can take their business forward," says Mrs Pierce.

Leisure offers careers in health and fitness clubs, gambling, cinemas and spas, just to name a few. Travel is another exciting industry in need of ambitious graduates.

Even more careers will become available in the future. Employing around 2.3 million people and contributing 4 per cent of GDP, the industry currently has 100,000 vacancies. Add to that the Government's target for the industry to grow by 25 per cent by 2010 and opportunities will be vast.

Contrary to popular belief, the industry is not just for school leavers, says Mrs Pierce. "The current growth spurt means that there has been a realisation among employers that they need to employ future leaders. In order to attract the best graduates, they need good recruitment schemes, which offer early responsibility and a fast-track to management."

Among them is Jurys Doyle, which has opportunities in hotel operations, sales and marketing, accounting, human resources and information technology as part of its 18-month Graduate Opportunities (GO) programme. "You'll be allocated to a property in a general role for nine months, followed by a further nine months in much more specialist areas," says a company spokesperson.

Radisson Edwardian Hotels also offers a comprehensive programme lasting 18 months to two years with a fast-track to senior roles. "We have a very flat hierarchy, with front-line people running the organisation, supported by a team of senior management and discipline leaders. The graduates who come here, therefore, very much take ownership and responsibility for decision making quite early on," says a spokesperson.

Thomas Cook has just introduced a graduate training programme. 10 recent graduates have joined the company and are spending a year learning all aspects of the business. "The future of Thomas Cook depends on the investment of our people now and we plan to continue targeting exceptional graduates in the future," says Clive Adkin, director of HR.

International opportunities for graduates also exist in Compass Group, the world's largest contract food service company. Its main graduate programme takes on around 75 university leavers a year, with a 12-15 window to take them through to junior executive. But while this is mainly based in the UK, the company's latest scheme is an international graduate management programme. "This is completely new and we've just taken on 10 candidates as a pilot with opportunities to work in France, Germany, Scandinavia and China, among others," says Mike Stapleton, corporate affairs director.

Brian Wisdom, chief executive of People First, the sector skills council, predicts a growth in graduate opportunities across the board. "The sector has already grown by 7 per cent in the last five years and some of the major operators are making it very clear just how much they need graduates."

The great thing about this industry is that you don't need vocational or even relevant qualifications, says Kathryn Benzine, director of professional development services at HCIMA, the management organisation for the sector. "Graduates who do have degrees in areas like hospitality walk into jobs, but employers recognise that these degrees have not been seen as particularly sexy so they take on almost any degree background. Many value the range of skills that a range of backgrounds offer."

Work experience is often sought after. Good news is that casual jobs - waiting tables or working behind the bar - are valued. If you don't get on a graduate recruitment scheme, there are plenty of opportunities to work your way up from the bottom, she says. "In fact, this is more common in smaller organisations and there are so many examples of people working their way up from roles like a waiter to senior manager."

There is a common misconception, she says, that jobs in hospitality and leisure are not well paid. "But the average for a senior manager is around £50,000-£60,000 and top jobs pay around £120,000."

'I earn good money, and I'm still learning'

Tim Black, 30, is a self-employed personal trainer at Fitness First in Angel, London. He has a third class degree in sports science from Chichester University

Throughout university, I was attracted to the social side of personal training. I also liked the idea of motivating people to do their best.

Now I'm doing it, I enjoy both those things, together with the sheer variety of the work.

My first job after graduating was at a council run gym, where I went in as a trainee gym instructor. I worked my way up to instructor level, then fitness consultant. I then became a personal fitness trainer at another gym and, a year later, moved to a job that combined personal training and gym management. The problem was there was so much admin, which got in the way of the work I loved. So I left and came to Fitness First, which was a brand new club.

There is a team of 10 personal trainers here, all self-employed and it's great fun. The people I train become my friends and I love the fact that I get to see the results of my work on a daily basis. In addition to working for the club, I teach NVQ level 2 Gym Instructing to academy players at three football clubs.

Although you don't need a degree to be a personal trainer, it helps. It gave me a good basic grounding in my field. In fact, even if my degree wasn't in sport, I think it would have taught me to challenge myself - something that's very important in my job.

There are no downsides to my career, as far as I'm concerned. I'm my own boss, I earn good money and I'm constantly learning.

'I've always loved travel'

Chris Allison, 24, graduated with a 2.1 in business studies with marketing at Northumbria University last year. He is on Thomas Cook's graduate training programme

I've always been interested in travel, largely because of all the different cultures it involves, but also because of the buzz of it. I really liked the idea of helping other people have good travelling experiences, so when I was at university, I decided to get a taste of the travel industry. I worked part-time for British Airways and did a work placement with Airtours.

I applied for the Thomas Cook graduate scheme because of the company's reputation in the industry, also the scheme sounded so well structured. The assessment process was straightforward, albeit rigorous.

I started in August with nine other people. In certain respects the scheme is generic, but in others it's individually tailored because each of us is placed in different departments. My area is Thomas Cook's product division which helps develop holidays and services for customers, while others work in areas like multimedia, operations and the holiday brand Thomas Cook Signature.

My first month was spent getting to grips with the products and then I spent three weeks overseas as a holiday rep to learn about the company from a customer perceptive. The last few months I've been involved in the re-launch of a direct mail product for one of our brands. On a day-to-day basis, I've been responsible for managing holidays to Menorca.

I'm enjoying getting my teeth into projects, learning new skills and having some responsibility. I'm not sure what job I'd like to wind up in yet because there are so many opportunities to choose from.

'I look after clients in the luxury market'

Sarah Glyde, 30, is director of luxury sales for Starwood Hotels and Resorts. She gained a 2.1 in hospitality management from Bournemouth University

Even as a child I knew I wanted to work in the hospitality industry. My father was in the catering business and I loved going to hotels with him. It looked such fun and so interesting.

Finding a job after university was difficult because I knew I wanted to work in a hotel chain with a good reputation that offered the chance to work all over the world, as well as having a structured graduate scheme. That criteria meant I only had about three options of employers, one of which was Starwood.

In fact, I was very lucky because the year I joined was the first time for 16 years that Starwood had taken graduates on a recruitment scheme. It lasted 18 months, during which time I worked in lots of departments, specialising in two at the end, sales and marketing and the front office.

I have worked my way up through various positions. Currently I look after clients that book in the luxury market - five-star-hotels and above. It involves a lot of travelling and responsibility and the rewards are huge.

The biggest reward is seeing a smiling guest leave, saying they had the best stay ever. The travel is great too - I've been to practically every continent. I also enjoy working with fantastic hotels that most people only dream of.

I'm in charge of conference, corporate and leisure. Controlling sales and marketing in these areas means that every morning, there is something new and exciting to develop.

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