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Hospitality: resolving a talent crisis

By Jochem-Jan Sleiffer - Posted on 9 April 2013

Jochem-Jan Sleiffer, Area Vice President Northern and Central Europe, at Hilton Worldwide, discusses his experience of the Executive Masters in Hospitality and Tourism leadership and the need for talent development in the hospitality industry.

Despite record unemployment levels, hospitality remains one of the fastest growing sectors in Europe.

According to a recent white paper, published by Hilton Worldwide in conjunction with the International Youth Foundation (IYF), the travel and tourism industry is expected to generate 73 million new jobs by 2022. While this will no doubt create optimism among young people, it also highlights the importance of ensuring we have a pipeline of new talent entering the sector.

Speaking to young people today, too often they haven’t even considered a career in hospitality– but rather view it as a stepping stone on their way to more traditional career choices. Yet, the hospitality sector offers a lifelong ladder of professional growth where rapid progression is a reality.

As those already in the industry will tell you, you can work your way up from bar staff, through head waiter, to general manager, but the question remains – ‘how do you make the leap to become regional manager, or area vice-president’?

The hospitality industry must be focused on talent identification and development. Without this, how can we expect to attract, retain, and progress the best available talent?

What’s more, how can we expect our existing talent - experienced assistant and general managers – to take the next step, moving from largely operational to the more strategic roles our modern, competitive and rapidly changing, industry demands?

Having worked in hospitality for more than 23 years, working up from the bottom to become General Manager for France, I knew a great deal about the hotel business. However, I understood if I wanted to progress to a more strategic role, I needed to learn more about the business of hotels.

So when Hilton Worldwide approached me to join the Executive Masters in Hospitality and Tourism leadership programme (EMHTL), understandably, I jumped at the chance.  Now eight months into the programme, one of the most beneficial elements of my studies has been the opportunity to develop concepts, and exchange ideas with fellow hospitality professionals, out-with my own organisation.

This interaction, on top of the wider appreciation of business and strategy I’ve gained from lectures and seminars, and the opportunity I’ve had to read widely has really opened my eyes to new ways of working.

I’ve gained an appreciation of other areas of the business and strategic considerations I had little experience of, been able to challenge myself, have gone beyond my comfort zone and developed my leadership style.

Most importantly for me, joining the programme showed my employer I was open to development and was willing to challenge myself.

Having now been promoted to a more strategic role, I know from personal experience how investment in talent development can pay off, both for individuals and organisations. But I also appreciate I’m not alone in facing the challenge of bridging the gap between operational experience and the strategic skills required to fulfil a senior leadership post.

The hospitality industry must harness the opportunity to attract new people and work to develop, and invest in, the existing talent it has. Demonstrating this commitment to the outside world will only help to promote the world of opportunity hospitality presents.

Do you work in hospitality, or do you aspire to a career in the sector? What has your experience been of its attitude to talent development? Let me know in the comments below.

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