Rhona Merrie: Combine a degree with meaningful work experience and employers take notice

"There is no such thing as a job for life". This often-spoken curb on the job-hunting graduate's enthusiasm may carry more than an element of truth, but there is one group of industries that remains defiant. The industries in question are hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism. These are the lifestyle industries, and working in them is a real lifestyle choice.

On every high street there is a branded coffee house - or three - chain pubs and bars, a range of restaurants, often themed, and around the corner, no doubt, a health and fitness centre, bowling alley, cinema and a hotel. There's an ever-increasing range of places that vie for our leisure time - be it during the course of the working day, after work, at the weekend or on holiday. Innovative trends such as the boutique hotel and the gastro-pub are turning the hospitality industry into a fashionable place to work.

In travel, the rise and rise of the low-cost airlines and the use of the internet has had a profound effect on the dynamics of the traditional holiday product and its distribution channels.

The desire for many companies in these sectors to see their brand gain national coverage against a backdrop of a major skill shortage is great news for graduates. The explosion of university courses to respond to the industry's needs has created such a myriad of hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism degrees that they are common currency - each with greater or lesser value - in the job market place. So there is competition to get through the employer's door - not least from graduates who can offer specific skills such as accountancy, marketing and HR skills to add value behind the scenes.

However, combine a degree with some meaningful work experience and the employer starts to take notice. Work experience is an integral part of a degree course worth its salt in these subject areas. And if the potential recruit can show initiative by taking on a part-time job, extra brownie points can be earned. This demonstrates experience in those oh-so-essential people skills and real commitment by putting in the hours at the cutting edge.

Take the rapidly expanding pubs and bars sector, growing at 10 per cent a year, with its ever-increasing number of chain bars owned by the big companies such as Mitchell & Butlers, JD Wetherspoon, Greene King and Spirit Group. Expansion, particularly into young people's venues, and stiff competition for skilled staff could give the nod to the quick-witted graduate who has topped up the student grant with bar work. A large operator's management training scheme combines hands-on experience of all functions with formal training at an assistant manager level. Responsibility comes early as does rapid career progression into managing a unit and then onto area management.

That rapid career progression has to be the magnet for graduates considering a career in these industries. With the big corporate employers keen to enrol graduates who are bright in personality as well as brains, they have developed comprehensive management training programmes to attract and nurture the best. So whatever the sector, the opportunities are there. Among the hotel company big players, Hilton's Elevator Programme may be typical of the type of structured approach designed to equip the graduate trainee with long-term employability potential. It is geared to give practical, business, people and management skills over an 18-month period. This fast-tracks graduates to a general manager position in five to eight years. The Shooting Stars programme at budget hotel chain Premier Travel Inn (part of the massive hospitality and leisure group Whitbread) shares the same goals, as do many more.

Indeed, whatever the sector, be it hospitality, leisure, travel or tourism, companies take management development very seriously as they compete to recruit graduates who will grow with their expansion plans. And they are making their career opportunities highly visible through their websites. The job seeker can simply surf the internet to draw up a list of potential employers that have the right fit in terms of graduate programme, career progression and, importantly, company ethos. Is it the type of company that feels comfortable? Where does it stand not only in terms of business strength but also corporate responsibility?

Springboard, which promotes careers across the four sectors, gives useful advice on CV writing, job applications, interview techniques as well as company directories at www.springboarduk.org.uk.

When it gets down to it, it is a very positive outlook from the potential recruit's perspective. The industry in all its shapes and sizes, but with customer service at its heart, is crying out for "people persons" - enthusiastic, sociable individuals, who are excellent communicators and want to learn, work hard, thrive as part of a team, think on their feet and be flexible when circumstances demand. Add to the package a degree qualification and work experience, then the world - corny but true - is indeed the graduate's oyster.

Rhona Merrie is careers manager for Springboard UK. For more information, call 020-7497 8654 or visit www.springboarduk.org.uk

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