Set your place at the top table

Willing graduates can quickly make themselves at home in the hospitality industry
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The Independent Online

Hospitality is seriously big business, employing over one in 10 people in the UK. And with leisure time and disposable income on the rise, businesses are continuing to grow. The resulting competition has led many to invest heavily in graduate careers, with large numbers having introduced graduate recruitment schemes within the past few years.

Hospitality is seriously big business, employing over one in 10 people in the UK. And with leisure time and disposable income on the rise, businesses are continuing to grow. The resulting competition has led many to invest heavily in graduate careers, with large numbers having introduced graduate recruitment schemes within the past few years.

"We want our graduates to become the next shining stars of the hospitality industry," says Peter Bech, Whitbread regional director for the North-west. "New recruits therefore find themselves able to progress quickly within our business areas and many find themselves with large amounts of responsibility very early on."

The problem is that bad experiences of working in hospitality are responsible for putting many graduates off. "Our research has found that a poor work experience makes students highly unlikely to ever consider the industry as a career option," says Ann Walker, managing director of Springboard UK, the specialist careers and education service for the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industries. "This is serious because the study also found that even formal work placements have often been poorly organised and consequently disappointing for many students."

Apart from putting together best practice guidelines for employers in the hope of improving future placements, Springboard is also working hard to promote the industry to university leavers. "It has traditionally been lax about marketing its career opportunities, rarely getting involved in the milk rounds - another reason for the shortage of graduates," admits Walker.

So what does hospitality really have to offer graduates? Wayne Topley, 30, is general manager of the York Marriott, and agrees with Whitbread that the opportunity for a fast-track to management is a major appeal. "The best thing about my job is the impact I can have on the business," he says. "I can make decisions that affect strategy, the guests and staff."

The variety is also attractive, with over 26,000 hotels, restaurants, cafés, pubs and clubs, and an estimated 100,000 catering outlets. Andrea Walton, 28, adds that variety can be found within jobs, too. The marketing manager at the government services division at contract caterer Compass explains, "I can spend one day in a prison and the next giving cuddly toys to kids in a primary school. I also enjoy having several brands to promote."

Many graduates boast about the buzz of the hospitality industry - the fast-paced, sociable and entertainment-based environment. Others enjoy the flexibility of the sector - the ability to move around departments and locations, particularly in big chains, as well as the welcome alternative to the nine-to-five treadmill. Indeed, part-time, full-time, freelance and flexible hours are all available.

The exact set of skills and qualifications you need will differ from company to company, but most employers welcome a range of degree subjects and there are a few personal qualities that are important in all careers. You should, for example, be able to work both independently and as part of a team, and be committed, energetic, a good communicator, resourceful and able to keep calm in a crisis.

"You need to be outgoing and able to think fast on your feet," adds Edward Gallier, development and training manager for the UK and Ireland at Jurys Doyle Hotel Group. Jurys Doyle has openings for graduates of all disciplines in the areas of hotel operations, sales and marketing, accounting, human resources and information technology as part of its 18-month graduate opportunities programme. "You'll be allocated to a property in a general role for nine months, followed by a further nine months in more specialist areas," explains Gallier. "What's interesting is that many graduates come to us wanting a career in, say, sales and marketing, but end up in finance because they become focused on different areas."

Radisson Edwardian Hotels also offers a comprehensive graduate programme lasting 18 months to two years, with a fast-track to senior roles. "We have a very flat hierarchy, with frontline 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. Indeed, we want them to become the future leaders of our organisation."

Compass Group, the world's largest contract food-service company, has a similar attitude towards its graduates, of which they take on around 75 a year. "In fact, we have a 12 to 15 year window to take them through to junior executive in the company," explains Mike Stapleton, corporate affairs director. "Year one is about an induction to the company. So graduates move across our operating companies and around the different operations themselves, such as marketing, IT and accounting. Then they move into a more structured year in which they take up a permanent role in a junior manager capacity. Finally, we plug them into a personal development plan."

There is no doubt that the hospitality industry requires a lot of hard work and can be pressurised and stressful. But graduates within the industry, for the most part, find plenty of career opportunities available and enjoy the ultimate aim of creating a happy environment.

'I got into a management role very quickly'

I joined Compass as a trainee graduate manager in 2000, having studied hotel catering and institutional management. As part of my course I'd done a six-month work placement at Compass and found I really enjoyed the event side of the hospitality industry.

I spent my first six months in two operating companies, one of which was Medirest. An opportunity arose for me to become a general manager at Dewsbury District Hospital in Yorkshire, so I got into a management role very quickly.

I stayed with Medirest and am now general manager at Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, where I manage a team of four managers. Underneath me are kitchen production, front-of-house operations and retail food management.

Every day is different and I enjoy being respected for what I do within the business. I also love the enormity of the job. Every time I drive over the hill on my way to work, the size of the building amazes me and I feel proud to look after the food here. We deal with 1,200 patients twice daily, as well as the staff and visitor restaurant.

I think to do well in hospitality you need a good sense of humour, to be open minded and very patient. I also think you need to be motivated.

'I got into a management role very quickly'

Andrew Naylor, 25, is general manager for Medirest, part of the large Compass Group contract foodservice company

I joined Compass as a trainee graduate manager in 2000, having studied hotel catering and institutional management. As part of my course I'd done a six-month work placement at Compass and found I really enjoyed the event side of the hospitality industry.

I spent my first six months in two operating companies, one of which was Medirest. An opportunity arose for me to become a general manager at Dewsbury District Hospital in Yorkshire, so I got into a management role very quickly.

I stayed with Medirest and am now general manager at Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, where I manage a team of four managers. Underneath me are kitchen production, front-of-house operations and retail food management.

Every day is different and I enjoy being respected for what I do within the business. I also love the enormity of the job. Every time I drive over the hill on my way to work, the size of the building amazes me and I feel proud to look after the food here. We deal with 1,200 patients twice daily, as well as the staff and visitor restaurant.

I think to do well in hospitality you need a good sense of humour, to be open minded and very patient. I also think you need to be motivated.

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