Talent Pool: Where are we headed?

As the hospitality sector walks on the road to recovery, the industry and the academia are working together to bridge the gap amid new trends in hiring and managing talent

Employees form the strong backbone of any business and the same holds true for the hospitality industry. But when a never-before situation like the pandemic impacts it and jobs are at stake, the talent with hardly any option at hand for survival moves out in search of greener pastures. So it happened in the hospitality domain which witnessed a fair percentage of employees migrating for better options. And not only employees, the employers, in many cases, either had to let go of this talented lot or handed them the pink slip. In fact, in 2020, the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) had estimated that the tourism value chain in India including hotels, restaurants, airlines and tour operators among others saw direct or indirect job losses to the extent of 38-50 million due to the pandemic.  

Cut to two years later. The industry is now on the road to recovery and there is positivity all around. But then there is a major challenge at hand. Talent, and a sizeable one, that was let go during that challenging period has bid a permanent goodbye to the hospitality sector. This has left the industry in a tough demand-supply situation as the number of guests has been witnessing an upward graph ever since the life-threatening virus has chosen to leave our leaves forever.   

“The current talent scape is rather dismal. The hospitality industry has seen significant job losses through the pandemic. Now, when revival is happening, most of those who lost their jobs have found work elsewhere in sectors and industries with greater pay parity and regular working hours,” says Dilip Puri, Founder & CEO, Indian School of Hospitality. To add to the challenge, he further shares, many young hospitality graduates are seeking careers in other customer-centric businesses which are aligned or adjacent to hospitality.  

These views were corroborated by Kamal Kant Pant, Principal and Secretary, Institute of Hotel Management, Catering and Nutrition, Pusa New Delhi. “We are in a tight spot as far as the talent in the industry is concerned. The way the bottom of the pyramid employees in the sector have perceived to have been treated during Covid19 has resulted in their not returning to work, leaving a huge void that must be filled in by new entrants,” he says. The situation is such, he avers, that leading brands are struggling to maintain their service quality, the demand for training managers is skyrocketting and the average wage bills are on the rise due to a few people available and being chased by multiple establishments. Pant adds that talent crunch exists and opines people are not reading into it enough. “The future regarding the availability of talent seems bleaker as the way things are panning out post-pandemic,” he shares.  

Agreeing there is a scarcity of high-quality talent, industry expert Satish Jayaram says that talent pipelines are indeed depleting rapidly. “Seventy per cent of talent shortage will become visible in frontline positions, the only solution being skilling rapidly for job specific roles, and 17-20 per cent will emerge at supervisory levels, re-certification / professional development must be considered to fast-track this existing talent. Deficits of 10-12 per cent will appear at the managerial level of the talent pyramid for which leadership development programmes and cross-functional expertise must supplement these gaps,” he explains. 

Puneet Dhawan, Senior Vice President - Operations, Accor, too feels the industry is facing a shortage of talent. Opining from the industry perspective, he says, “Hospitality industry continues to thrive while embracing the need to innovate and respond to the evolving tastes and preferences of its patrons. We have witnessed a rise in employment as hotels are continuing to garner higher occupancies.” 

Changing trends 

The pandemic indeed has made way for many new trends. One of the most alarming ones, says IHM’s Pant, is the dwindling number of applicants for enrolment in hospitality schools. “The attitude of students towards the industry is transforming. In leading hospitality schools, the number of graduating students offering themselves for placement in core hospitality sector is alarmingly minuscule to the comfort of leading brands of hotels and restaurants alike while the preference towards the allied sectors like e-commerce, retail and realty is increasing along with the desire for pursuing further education in general management than hospitality management,” he adds.  

But that is not the only change. “Post-pandemic, the hospitality industry has focussed on infrastructural overhaul with the integration of new-age technology to prevent future disruption of the same magnitude as the pandemic while evolving with the times,” shares Nasir Shaikh, Group CEO, Lexicon Group of Institutes, MultiFit & EduCrack.  

With the adoption of technology, HR practices have changed at hotels too. “Accor has adopted various technological aids and developed tools which help our team, ‘Heartists’, keep up with the changing technological landscape. We have greatly focussed on digital training of teams by using iAuditor, a self-assessment platform,” shares Dhawan. With change in how Accor does business, including room bookings, payment procedures, digital posters, digital menus and automation in revenue management, it also curated various sessions for its team.  

On the other hand, IHG, is working to ensure the members receive the required training needed to manoeuvre an environment that is becoming increasingly technologically advanced, says Sudeep Jain, Managing Director, South-West Asia, IHG Hotels & Resorts. “Efficient talent management has always been an important consideration for the industry and for us, along with a significant focus on training of colleagues and investing in their professional development and well-being. In India, our growth has been underpinned by a strong talent agenda, and we have driven several initiatives to support internal talent development and invest in providing the right training to external talent to join our workforce,” Jain shares.  

Talking about the advancements taking place in Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Arif Khan, Director of Human Resources India, explains, “We leveraged our existing technologies like Peoplesoft and Tableau to make our HR teams more agile and proactive rather than reactive. The Colleague Engagement Survey further evolved into a real-time Pulse survey to offer different questions that aim to make a twofold impact – a better colleague experience and a better business. Saba Cloud, our e-earning platform ensured that colleagues were able to learn and grow throughout the pandemic. Tools like Sharepoint and MS Teams helped improve team productivity even when most colleagues were working from home.”   

Industry-academia partnership  

In building talent suitable for the industry, academia plays a key role. Over the years, this relation has developed into a more interspersed partnership. “Industry academic partnership is critical for any economy. A functional partnership between the two eliminates waste of time, effort and money in grooming talent to nurture the industry,” says IHM’s Pant. In fact, many hotel chains like IHCL and ITC have their own institutes for honing talent suitable for the industry.  

ITC, for instance, created the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration (WGSHA) in 1986. It also “participates actively with Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship to provide industry knowledge and infrastructural support to various schools and vocational institutes across the country”, says Sanjay Bose, Executive Vice President - HR and L&D, ITC Hotels.  

IHG has the IHG Academy, informs Jain, which has launched a digital learning platform – IHG Skills Academy to offer free online education, courses and opportunities. This is one of the many hotel-academia initiatives taken by the Group. “Then we have RISE, IHG’s mentoring and career development programme created to ensure high potential female colleagues are given the support they need to achieve their ambition of becoming a General Manager,” he explains. These initiatives point towards the industry’s commitment towards partnering with and lending support to academia. However, on the flip side, the specialised institutes on the academia side have a slightly different tale to tell.  

“A significant part of education in hospitality and culinary arts is spent on internships. In a four-year undergraduate programme, students do two six-month internships. This is where hotels have missed the trick,” ISH’s Puri points out, explaining that instead of encouraging bright young talent to pursue a career in the industry, hotels often use them as casual labour. The need, he says, is therefore, to collaborate “in fostering innovation, doing cutting edge research and creating a skilled workforce”. 

Along the same lines, IHM’s Pant shares, “Management in the boardroom and in the other meetings may say the most logical things but what matters is the experience and collaboration with the academia at the grass-root level. The frontline managers and supervisors who deal with the interns, fresh graduates and the placement officers of the institutions don’t convey this message. On the contrary, there is generally a doubt in the abilities of the interns.” This, Pant avers, leads to industry and academia often functioning in silos, often blaming each other than working together. And to “one imparting skill which would not be utilised eventually and the other having to spend on reskilling in what is required making the economy to suffer wasteful deployment and redeployment of resources,” he opines. 

Bridging the gap 

These differing views point towards a hiatus that needs to be bridged because without that tandem honing talent in the middle of such unprecedented crunch can be a difficult goal to achieve. The first step is to understand the different needs from their talent and the expectations talent has from the employers.   “ITC Hotels believes in the old adage of hiring for values and training for skills. There are substantial training interventions designed to address the needs of diverse segments of our talent pool. The organisation’s expectations from its talent is steadfast commitment to its values which begins with customer-centricity and encompasses larger aspects of nation orientation, excellence, customer trusteeship, innovation and respect for people. We expect our employees to be the torchbearers and exhibit these values in each interaction of their professional and personal lives,” says Bose.  

Accor, however, looks at standard skillsets apart from specialised skills that vary with each role. “An eye for detail is a critical skill and it is indispensable in our business. It is a characteristic that sets one apart and ensures thoroughness and accuracy. Additionally, great interpersonal skills, precise business understanding, and the ability to manage business priorities and strengthen key partnerships are essential. We also believe in investing in our team’s professional development through sustained technical training modules and pride ourselves on a workforce that exudes a positive attitude,” explains Dhawan.  

Lemon Tree’s policy is similar to that of ITC. “The hospitality industry may look glamorous from the outside, but the hard work and long hours that go into making a fine hotelier can only be learnt if a person has the right attitude. Skilling is easy, people can be groomed and trained through robust development programmes but the learning has to happen at an individual level and the more receptive,” says Rajesh Kumar, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Lemon Tree Hotels. 

For Sarovar Hotels, “high integrity, ability to work hard as the hospitality industry is a dynamic and challenging” are important, according to Nihar Mehta, General Manager - Human Resources. “Good education, communication and grooming is an advantage always. Even though the hospitality industry has challenges, the right approach to manage them is a must,” he adds. 

From an institute point of view, Dr Ruchita Verma, Director, NMIMS School of Hospitality Management, shares the skillsets that her H-school wishes to imbibe in the students. She says, “Hospitality involves customers of different faith, ethnicity, culture, profession, etc. To deal with this, skill sets like Operation Skills and Knowledge and Soft or Interpersonal Skills become imperative. The first includes the skills and knowledge to use the right tools in the most effective manner, which is taught in practical sessions – Multi-tasking; Taking Responsibility; Time Management and Attention to Detail. Some soft skills that are required for a successful career in hospitality are Effective Communication and Leadership Skills.”

“Graduates in the hospitality industry should focus on developing resilience, multitasking abilities, cultural sensitivity, compliance awareness, digital and contactless tech savviness, focus on sanitation and safety and great communication skills,” opines Vimal Kumar, Principal, The Lalit Suri Hospitality School. However, students enter the industry with some expectations including learning opportunities, quality compensation and growth prospects.  

Speaking on what students can expect from the industry, Shaikh explains, “In my conversation with senior leaders in hospitality across brands, points that stood out common and on high priority included renewed focus on work-life balance, enhanced employee-team benefits for self and family, fun at work, relook the compensation at all levels and overall, health and wellness.” The common point between these expectations needs to be reached in order to find the equilibrium between the talent demand and supply. While the industry needs to keep the expectations of employees in mind, incoming talent needs to understand the difficult reality of working in the industry. It helps that despite the difficult working hours and the high expectations, the industry does try to keep employees’ personal health in mind.  

On how ITC ensures work-life balance of its employees, Bose shares, “With the pandemic induced mind-shift, the workforce has reprioritised the relevance of factors like personal time, remote working, flexi shifts etc. Earlier this year, we launched a comprehensive set of policies including work from home, extended child care leaves, travel support for caregivers and medical benefits for same gender partner among others.” 

Hyatt, on the other hand, provides its employees eight leaves a month to allow them to spend time with family. “We’ve been dedicated to caring for our colleagues and have been listening to them through direct feedback, addressing their concerns and making tangible efforts to improve their on-job experience as well as holistic well-being. There have been training and development programmes, new projects to upskill colleagues in both on-site and online settings and we recognise and reward members for their contribution to our growth. We participate in salary surveys and do our own compensation benchmarking to ensure we are compensating our colleagues right,” says Khan. 

Looking at the future 

“In the coming years, more synergy needs to be developed between the industry and the academic fraternity that fulfills students’ aspirations and career goals. The academic institutions must be more resilient to adapt to the changing environment. In this century, close connection between the educational institutions and industry will ensure that right talent is distributed to the right place. The industry should come forward to nurture the youngsters holistically. This will mutually be beneficial to the individual and to the industry,” says Chef K Thirugnanasambantham, Principal, Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration.  

IHM’s Pant feels the pandemic put the recruitment of fresh talent on a standstill while existing talent was allowed to go. “The next one or two years will be ones of consolidation. Thereafter, dearth of talent is going to lead to higher compensation rates and more openings in the industry which will result in more fresh talent getting attracted to hospitality in the years to come. This is going to bring in better talent and better grooming of talent into the pipelines for the industry to rely upon,” he says. 

Another aspect that needs to be looked at is the diversity of talent in terms of gender and recruitment of differently abled candidates. “As an industry, we are getting better at this. Almost all companies, brands and hotels have robust diversity and inclusion policies and mandates. There is still a lot of work to do but we are on the right track,”  ISH’s Puri avers. 

Asserting that growth opportunities, work-life harmony and a good income will impact hospitality career aspirants in the future, Verma shares, “The hospitality sector is transforming because of a shift in the spending and decision-making power of the world.”

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER - THE TALENT POOL SPECIAL'

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Hospitality Education Talent in hospitality IHM Pusa ISH


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