Time to plug the talent drain

Seasoned hoteliers who may lead the future of their brands share plans to cultivate, develop and retain talent

Not just hypothetically, let us take it as a given. The only way ahead for the Indian hospitality industry is up as it stands on the cusp of glory. Glory in the sense that where we stand today is only a stepping stone for much bigger industry presence over the next three to five years, considering that hospitality, travel and tourism have yet to realise their full potential if we were to compare India with other destinations like Thailand, Maldives, Vietnam, Dubai or Bali. Bali, for instance, has thousands of hotels on a small island location. Given the pipeline of hotels in India, we are staring at a situation where talent may be in a crunch if not already.

Prabhat Verma

Executive Vice President – Operations, South India, International & Ancillary Businesses, IHCL 

IHCL is an organisation that invests in its people. They are at the heart of all that we do. As the fastest growing hospitality company in India, we are constantly working towards creating and developing the talent pool for tomorrow. IHCL has collaborated with international universities such as ESSEC Business School, France and Les Roche, Switzerland to offer key talent advanced education opportunities such as MSc in Hospitality and Executive MBAs respectively. Senior leadership inputs are also provided through Advanced Management Programmes with INSEAD and reputed educational institutes.

Internally, we have a comprehensive plan in place to build capacity and capability of colleagues across hierarchy. As an organisation, we offer learning and growth opportunities for our employees through various programme offerings such as SPEED, Talent Identification and Development Initiatives (TIDI) and Leadership Development and Assessment centres. High potential talent are identified through these programmes and provided all developmental opportunities to ensure we have a ready pipeline of talent available to support the growth agenda of the organisation. For our new businesses like ama, Qmin, 7 Rivers as well as for Jiva spas, our in-house training academies build capabilities and offer certification.

Learning and development is continuously piloting newer technologies to increase the reach and effectiveness of the learning methodologies. Exposure to international hotels and key hotels within the group is a very successful learning methodology which is a combination of experiencing and then implementing new processes.

Rohit Khosla

Executive Vice President – Operations, North and West India, IHCL

As an industry leader, IHCL is committed to nurture and contribute in providing best of talent to the Indian hospitality industry. Towards the same, we have undertaken numerous initiatives over the years. Last year, we partnered with CII and EHL Education Group, Switzerland to offer a professional diploma programme to hospitality industry students at CII’s Vocational Education and Training by EHL (VET by EHL) Learning Centres across India.

Apart from this, some of the Group’s key initiatives include our livelihood programmes under which we train underprivileged and school dropouts as per industry requirements. We have partnered with top institutes across India for training and certification programmes. IHCL’s Building Livelihood Programme has trained and certified over 20,000 youth so far. Many of them have got employed and some have become entrepreneurs. Taking ahead our commitment, IHCL is committed to skilling and impacting the livelihood of over 1 lakh youth in India by 2030.

IHCL, along with Tata Strive, at present, runs skill centres across India. A large number of these skill training efforts have been in housekeeping, F&B services, spa, kitchen and bakery trades and are structured as practical short courses with in-built on-the-job exposure, training in soft skills and in basic English as well. Over 85 per cent of these trained youth secure immediate job placements in the hotel and service industry. The company continues to build a quality talent pipeline for the hospitality industry with an aim to develop and support deserving youth and their families in the country.

Gaurav Singh 

Market Vice President – South & East India, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka, Marriott International

At Marriott, attracting and nurturing talent is one of the core pillars that supports and drives our growth strategy. In the last 23 years of our presence in India, Marriott has set new benchmarks in HR practices and associate engagement. One of Marriott’s best-known practices is to refer to all employees as ‘associates’ which symbolises respect and equality. Training and mentoring are part of our leaders’ balanced scorecard. In addition, Marriott invests in training systems and learning is woven into our long-range strategic planning. 

We recognise that we are at the cusp of a seismic change. Potential employees look at the opportunity in the industry in very different terms than the past generation of hospitality professionals. Throughout the last century, a career in the hotel industry meant stretched hours and inadequate pay. However, this was worn as a badge of honour amongst the regimental workforce of past generations. There is a clear shift in the hierarchy of needs. At Marriott, we hope to flip this definition of a hotel career – smart hours and just pay. Widening the base of the qualified workforce, facilitating remote work and carrying our pride are all within the ambit of talent management. As we measure the hours, we also measure the efficiency of redundant processes. We ask ourselves, will every new layer of technology change the quality of interaction with our guests and associates? 

There is a latent and untapped potential in Tier III cities that we hope to unlock. The English language has been a marker of knowledge and proficiency in the industry for an extended period. Can we question this established dogma and focus on the ethos of service attitude? Genuineness, sincerity and empathy? This language liberalisation can open up a new genre for hospitality. The hospitality industry has been a massive exporter of talent. 

As a country, we must stem that tide and arrest the talent drain with opportunities that appeals to this diaspora. The growth of the industry is a fait accompli. The pertinent question is whether hospitality can channel the energy of the millennials and Gen Zs in a meaningful and engaging way.

Atul Bhalla

Area Manager – West & East ITC Hotels and General Manager – ITC Maratha  

Investing time and interaction in new talent pool should be the long-term strategy for organisations. Definition of job satisfaction for Gen Z is very different from Gen X and the millennials. We need to decode the mind-set of Gen Z which is not just a developing recruitment pool for the hospitality industry but will make for the prospective customers aiding business sustenance. As thought leaders, we need to really deep-dive into these younger generations’ expectations and lifestyle perceptions. While this can be immediately addressed through regular hospitality clinics in hotel management institutes with under-trainees and undergrads to sensitise them with the business realities and perks, equal weightage has to be laid upon academic infrastructure that needs to catch up with relevant skill training. 

The healthy resurgence of hospitality with a pent-up demand is here to stay as one of the fastest growing sectors in recent times. It will be upon the senior leadership at any hotel/ hospitality chain to harbour the change of post-pandemic business mix and manage the expectation of workforce by aligning the talent practices/ training structures that are more relevant to the present times and are competitive in larger spectrum of industries. I feel some of the factors such as defining career pathways and unique benefits, including competitive wages, flexible schedules, multi-functional growth aspect, travel discounts and job advancement opportunities, will play a huge role in attracting the right talent sets to the sector and retaining them. 

At ITC Hotels, there are regular apprenticeship programmes offered for diploma holders with guided modules and structured on-job training programmes. Earlier, in 2021, a significant initiative for skill development in Indian hospitality was undertaken by industry body CII by introducing an 18-month Vocational Education and Training (VET) Professional Diploma programme by the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne/ EHL Education Group of Switzerland at ITC Hotels across the country. The programme is aimed at enhancing the skill set of enthusiastic hospitality students and enables aspiring candidates to receive the best of both hands-on training at ITC Hotels across the country, in every region as well as an in-depth understanding of hotel operations by subject matter experts. This knowledge exchange programme is beyond geographical and classroom boundaries and is on to prepare a unique talent pool for the industry.

Benita Sharma 

Area Manager – Luxury Collection Hotels (North) and General Manager – ITC Maurya

Good talent is and will continue to be of utmost importance for any industry, especially hospitality which is a people’s business. The availability of trainable resources having English as a mode of expression also augurs well for the industry. Obviously, with fast growth in both tourism and hospitality, the demand for cutting edge talent will accelerate. Resources being always limited within organisations, one would have to exploit the industry – educational institutions partnership model. The industry would have to adopt schools of hospitality and craft.

Going by the axiom ‘hire for attitude, train for skills’, the industry additionally would have to hire people with the right attitude and disposition and train them in-house. Business would have to become a nursery for talent. The importance of retaining and growing talent would also assume a greater significance. Organisations would have to redefine work cultures, where associates can have free expression and are given a sense of inclusiveness. Organisations would also have to give faster growth to their trained resources even if that may mean losing them to competition.

ITC has a very large infrastructure dedicated exclusively to the training of its resources at Gurgaon which is being used for purposes of in-house education and talent development. Additionally, we manage and run an education institute with the Pai Foundation at Manipal. All our big hotels are also used as hubs for skill development facilitated by our Learning Services Managers. Mentoring of resources is considered an essential part of every leadership position. Work from anywhere and flexibility has gained significant importance during the pandemic and is here to stay. At ITC, we have always believed and nurtured a gender balanced, gender diverse and inclusive workforce that strengthens our business productivity.

Zubin Songadwala 

Area Manager – ITC Hotels and General Manager – ITC  Grand Chola 

ITC Grand Chola has always believed in its associates being the core of its business as people are the fulcrum of the hospitality industry. Nowhere did we epitomise our firm faith and loyalty by our people than during the Covid19 pandemic. Salaries were protected despite the strained economic realities. Also, we incorporated a slew of engagement and training programmes to ensure we keep pace with the changing momentum and new developments. These included (and are ongoing) wellness programmes on physical and mental health for the employees and their families, team building activities, sports for bonding (cricket, football, carrom, etc), hosting tea with HR and open forum with the General Manager and staff welfare meetings among others. 

With regard to training, 1,800 training man-hours took place on the premises during the period of the pandemic. We also instituted a WelcomAchievers 2.0 programme to recognise ace performers and shining stars. All testing, vaccinations and hospitalisations were taken care of by the hotel so that every associate felt protected and safe. Every associate has been double vaccinated.

We nurture and retain talent through timely appraisals, regular feedback, appropriate guidance, thoughtful succession planning, regular topical and developmental training. We also have a flexible work policy, including work from home, timings to support work-life balance, extended childcare leave, paternity leave and caregiver travel support among others. 

Ours is an inclusive, diversity-friendly ecosystem and all our policies are forward-looking. We thus enjoy great repute in the marketplace as a most desirable place to work in. We are sure we will continue evolving with the changing times to always do our best by our people.

Javed Ali

Senior Regional Director, Operations, South Asia – Radisson Hotel Group

I feel that stepping up to understand and respond to changing consumer behaviour as well as adopting new practices and ensuring flexible ways of working for employees have played a key role in the sector’s ongoing recovery. Hoteliers are now in a transformational period of finding new ways to adapt to the evolving industry to change this reality. At Radisson Hotel Group, our people are at the core of our business success and future. Keeping in mind the growing demand, the challenge to hire good talent remains to be a key issue across the industry. We are committed to growing and promoting talent keeping the below key aspects in mind:

  • Recruitment: ‘Hire for attitude and train for skills’.
  • Onboarding: Innovative, engaging, and on-point, with a warm welcome to the hotel, so that a new employee integrates quickly and finds an affiliation with the new team
  • Regular touchpoints with team members during the early days: 21-day follow-up – coffee or breakfast with hotel leaders, listening in, pulse check – to demonstrate interest in team member’s workplace satisfaction
  • Workplace culture: Fair and respectful treatment, focus on each team member’s growth and development
  • Learning & Development: Very high focus – online learning options, learning on the move, mobile apps, video-based learning and gamification – fostering affinity with learning group, linking growth with learning
  • Performance incentives based on goal achievement
  • Social responsibility and community engagement: Instilling pride in being part of an organisation that takes care of people, the planet and the community.
  • Career development & advancement opportunities: Domestically and overseas

Sanjay Kaushik 

Senior Regional Director, Operations, South Asia – Radisson Hotel Group

Finding and retaining good talent has been the hardest test for the hospitality industry, given the challenges posed by the pandemic. However, given the changing business environment, the industry is now adopting the new normal ways of working and is opening doors to people from various other industries. Flexibility and agility is the way ahead and industries like banks, hospitals, airlines, retail etc are bringing new prospect to the hospitality business. Upskilling and giving growth opportunities by keeping colleagues engaged through incentives and courses is what we foresee attracting new talent within the system. Providing certified crash or business courses from recognised academic bodies always value adds to people’s acumen and big motivator to develop loyalties.

Mahesh Aiyer

CEO, Carnation Hotels

We have a very sharp process of identifying our future leaders, through our High Potential (HiPot) and Super High Achievers (SHA) programme. Every potential future leader at Lemon Tree Hotels has an Individual Development Plan (IDP), which is tracked and monitored at the senior level by mentors in our corporate office. Our fast expansion has also helped in retaining and promoting talent, as we promote mostly internally for new properties, and this gives an opportunity for career development for high potential employees. When it comes to retention, we have a clear strategy on employee segmentation, and monitoring attrition across segments. We want it to be least (below 10 per cent) in the HiPot and SHA segment, which is comprised of high performing employees who fall in the critical for customer and critical for business segment. For other segments, we continue to monitor attrition, while also training and upskilling internal candidates to prepare them for the next role, in case a vacancy comes up. As we sign more hotels and aim to double our inventory in a few years, we have numerous opportunities of vertical and horizontal growth for internal candidates in our system.

Vikramjit Singh

President, Lemon Tree Hotels

Talent is a most crucial pillar for Lemon Tree Hotels, especially as we are looking to expand to double our inventory in the next six to seven years. Talent acquisition, development, retention and engagement are all integral sub pillars, and are interlinked to the culture of our company. We strongly believe in our hiring motto, ‘We recruit for attitude and train for skill’. We have numerous robust training programmes to cover all levels of talent and are constantly re-inventing the speed and quality of this processes. We recruit talent from all sources, including Employees with Disability (EwD) and those from Economically and Socially Challenged Backgrounds (EcoSoc), as long as they have a great attitude and showcase a willingness to learn. Further, once a person joins our team, our transparent, fun, non-bureaucratic and communicative culture helps us listen to them faster and to make necessary adjustments at individual levels. It’s this culture that keeps employees engaged, and allows them to share their thoughts and ideas and to add value to the system. 

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


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