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Training for consistency: hotels

By Peter Ruddick , 30-Aug-2012
Last updated on 30-Aug-2012 at 17:04 GMT2012-08-30T17:04:57Z

Learning from other operators and sharing best practice can help hotels improve staff training

Learning from other operators and sharing best practice can help hotels improve staff training

With a hotel’s reputation increasingly made or broken in a single tweet or TripAdvisor review, increased guest expectations and the need to provide as good an F&B offer as any restaurant or bar, staff training is arguably more crucial in hotels than other hospitality businesses.

In the second part of our feature investigating the latest trends and case studies in training for consistency in the hospitality sector, we speak to a number of hotel operators, both small and large on the key areas they are focusing on, and seeing success in, when it comes to staff development.

Big boys and small fish

With news stories written every week on the latest schemes and projects the so-called ‘big boys’ are using to ensure their employees are up to scratch, the average hotelier might be forgiven for thinking the only advances are at the higher end of the market.

Whilst it is undeniably true Accor and Hilton Worldwide made waves with the Government and helped the cause of the industry by creating academies this year helping to kick-start careers and apprenticeships for young people, there is activity at all levels of the sector.

What do France-based global operator Accor and the remote Summer Isles Hotel in the Scottish Highlands village of Achiltibuie have in common? The gulf in numbers of bedrooms and staff is vast – while the Summer Isles Hotel has around 20 employees on its books tending to three bedrooms and a number of suites, Accor now operates 185 UK hotels alone and has pledged to create 3,500 jobs over the next three years.

However both were named as the only two hospitality entries on the latest list of the best workplaces in the UK. Both were also praised for staff training.

Increasingly hotels are learning from the successes of others, coming together to share best practice, developing blended as well as focused learning and, with the growth of e-learning, the best training is no longer limited to those with the most staff.

Leap of faith

“There is something of a quantum leap of faith and you are exposing yourself warts and all to the other greats in the industry,” Sue Williams, general manager of Cliveden House, says as she extolls the virtues of sharing best practice.

A number of years ago, at a gathering of like-minded small country house hotels in the south east and west, Williams, who was at the time in post at the Bath Priory, suggested an idea that became Ten out of Ten – a recruitment and training scheme to ensure the best quality staff in ten venues.

The two-year programme sees ten individuals with some experience in the industry work in placements in five of the ten properties, which includes Gidleigh Park, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and The Fat Duck, with the aim of producing the finest hotel managers in the country.

The scheme started from an informal meeting of minds – something Williams says small operators can have a go at in their area to help take on the might of the bigger hotel groups.

“There is a lot of merit in sharing best practice. It is about being magnanimous and baring all. We are seeing a year in that the growth in our staff is just tremendous.”

Sharing knowledge to get better at training does not just have to be between hoteliers either but between trainer and trainee. Williams explains many of the first batch of Ten out of Ten candidates, the second intake begin next week, have given their input to improve the training – something that should be encouraged.

“The kids that are on it now have really taken on that mantle and have said ‘this would work really well’ or ‘that wouldn’t’ and they are then excited and proud in being part of the process.”

“They have to make a good contribution – the more they put in the more they get out. A busy head of department might miss a stage of training but we tell them they have to flag it up and make sure it is achieved.”

Broad vs. specific

One of the biggest dilemmas for hotels is whether to have a broad or specific approach to training.

Williams’ Ten out of Ten programme trains students in food and beverage service, reception and guest services, events and marketing and housekeeping with property management. This approach can be perfect for creating well-rounded and flexible managers.

However with the growth of high-quality food offerings in hotels, led in part by celebrity chefs , many operators, including Barcelo Hotels , have chosen to launch a ‘chef academy’ to plug an obvious skills gap and ensure the best new chefs earn their keep behind a stove in a hotel kitchen.

Although Hilton Worldwide has recently launched a broad Apprenticeship Academy it too has seen success with a specific chef programme with 95 per cent of the trainees on the scheme gaining employment with the business.

Ben Bengougam is vice president of human resources for Europe at Hilton Worldwide and says the success of its schemes is based on the needs of the company and the nature of the changing workforce. Many with the most quantifiable success have been specific in their focus.

“We introduced a new food & beverage programmed called FAB to our UK hotels to help develop waiting staff to F&B supervisor positions, and in some of our UK divisions the scheme has helped fill 80 per cent of these roles.”

“We also introduced Junior Managers in Training to up-skill and retain individuals with the intention of fast tracking them to a junior management position within two years, which has proved very successful,” he says.

With 80 per cent of hires to director level and above coming internally, Hilton Worldwide’s training success clearly has self-benefits but other operators and smaller hotels can easily adopt its approach.

Future trends

After becoming the first hotel group in Europe to set up an integrated training centre in 1985, Accor has developed a reputation for strong training and will invest £5m in training in the UK between now and 2015.

Christine Lewis, training and development Manager for Accor UK & Ireland, says graduate schemes, apprenticeships, e-learning and so-called blended learning, using different teaching environments, are likely to be the big future trends for operators to be aware of.

“We will continue to use a “blended” approach to training combining both active sessions with digital learning in one centre, giving us an opportunity to re-enforce our service standards in a dedicated centre.”

“More and more learning takes place digitally through our e-learning initiatives as well as through traditional training methods. We must to be in line with the changing ways of communicating and reaching information.”

Bengougam agrees: “Many organisations, including Hilton Worldwide, are increasingly moving away from traditional, classroom-based learning methods to focus on experiential learning, which is often more participatory and engaging, and we see this trend continuing.”

The benefit of the growth in social media, video and e-learning in training environments can only benefit hotel companies and particularly small and independent operators who can easily replicate the successful schemes with the only criteria being internet access.

“I am certainly a massive advocate of social media,” Williams says. “I have done a presentation to the students and got them all engaged with it and realize the importance of it. It should be used for connectivity, engaging with your customer base and managing your property’s reputation online – it is a generational thing.”

“For our induction day we have three bits of video – Rick Stein’s property is now involved so he will do a piece to video, Raymond Blanc will as well – inspirational dialogue.”

With many hotels now well on the road to developing high-quality training schemes, that last point from Williams could be the most key – rather than trying to compete with fellow or larger operators coming together, sharing knowledge and harnessing industry connectivity are undoubtedly the big future trends for hotel training.

Affordable advances

It is clear not every operator can follow the lead of the groundbreaking Edge Hotel School which took its first students last month or the similar project in Manchester .

However as Fred Sirieix, general manager at Galvin at Windows at the Hilton London on Park Lane hotel, points out there are plenty of ways of training on a budget .

Taking on accredited training can be expensive but organisations like Concord Hotels can help operators do things on a bigger scale while Williams and Ten out of Ten show hoteliers the power of working together.

To read all our articles on training for consistency click here .

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