Ben Bengougam on Hilton Worldwide's careers programme and encouraging employee development

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ben Bengougam on Hilton Worldwide's careers programme and encouraging employee development

Related tags: Hilton, Employment

Ben Bengougam started his career washing pots in a hotel kitchen, now he is vice president of Human Resources at Hilton Worldwide. Following the launch of the company’s Youth in Hospitality month he spoke to BigHospitality about tackling the industry’s skills gap and how recruitment is changing.

Hilton recently received a 2015 Great Place to Work, Best Workplaces Award voted for by staff– what do you think people like about working for the business?

They liked that it was a family-run organisation whose leaders are interested in people and want to see their employees do well. Every year we try and listen to our team members and address and improve what is important to them.

How do Hilton's career schemes help people to progress?

We always say you don’t get a job at Hilton, you get a career. School leavers can go straight in to jobs or training, and there are a variety of graduate programmes. Apprentices can learn about front of house, foodservice and housekeeping.

Careers at Hilton are vocational but also geographically attractive; if people say they want to travel the world then we can offer them advice and the opportunity to do that.

Are a lot of your employees able to move internationally?

Yes, we have an international mobility programme which is important in propagating our brands correctly. If we go in to a new market and want to open a new Doubletree by Hilton it’s good to be able to take an experienced staff member to be the first manager of the hotel, because that person can teach the brand and make sure we employ the right people. 

How is recruitment changing in the industry?

What’s fascinating is that over the last three to four years the recruitment process for our top graduate scheme has changed. We used to recruit predominantly from a small group of university hospitality and tourism programmes, now we recruit from any university and take graduates who have never worked in a hotel or restaurant before. Two years ago we took our first two Cambridge graduates; they have just finished the scheme and are already in their first senior management positions and are doing wonderfully.

At Hilton we employ people from all walks of life with all kinds of skills and experiences; if they are interested in hospitality then we have a career opportunity for them.

What is Hilton doing to tackle staff and skill shortages within the industry​?

I don’t honestly subscribe to the view that there is a shortage of people or skills.

There are occasional constraints, for example UK immigration restrictions make it difficult for us to get access to ethnic chefs, so if you want to open a sushi restaurant and hire a Japanese chef you can’t import those skills, but these are small tactical things that we have to address.

If you’re a great employer, have a great brand and do a great job of offering people opportunities, the people are out there. We still have three or four million unemployed in this country, a lot of them want jobs – so why do we have people shortages?

There is often a negative perception of working in the hospitality industry – how can businesses challenge this?

Some of the jobs in the industry are tough. It’s not easy to clean a bedroom or spend eight hours cleaning pots and pans in a kitchen, but they are very legitimate and honourable occupations and we value the people who do those jobs and look after them.

It can be the beginning of a career. We have many people at Hilton, myself included, who started off cleaning pots in a kitchen and have gone on to very senior positions in the industry. There are others who for lots of reasons just want a job that doesn’t require too much education. They just want to be treated well and rewarded for that, and we try to do that too.

How did you progress in the industry?

Many years ago I started working for a company that no longer exists called Trusthouse Forte. My first job was cleaning pots, and then I moved to peeling vegetables and doing a bit of cooking. I fancied the idea of wearing a shirt and bowtie so I went and worked in a restaurant, and I was reasonably educated and articulate so I managed to progress to management positions and so on. Many other colleagues [at my level] have had that kind of career because of the variety and richness of opportunities that hospitality can provide.

What does the future hold for Hilton’s careers offering?

The sky’s the limit in terms of what Hilton can achieve as a business, and we are going to create employment in the UK and worldwide because of our development. We want to continue doing what we do well, improving where we can and be a leading employer in our industry. That’s not just an aspirational objective - our business demands it, we want to be the leading hotel company in the world and therefore we have to be one of the leading employers in the world.

Related topics: People, Hotel, Opinion

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