Alex Dimsdale explains what Marriott International is doing to solve the staffing crisis, from developing strategic partnerships with colleges to offering work experience with real value.

As Brexit loomed in late 2019, it was clear that our industry was going to be significantly affected when it came to skills and recruitment. Around 70% of our workforce at that time was from the EU, so we were under no illusion that action would be needed to secure a high-quality future workforce.

It is easy for employers to bemoan the lack of skills coming into the hospitality industry. The sector is traditionally viewed as being an uninteresting career choice, lacking long-term opportunities and/or progression.

Yet anyone working in the industry knows that this perception is far off the mark. Hospitality offers so much, from the opportunity to travel globally to fast-moving promotions and exposure to many different fields of work. What is lacking is the positive career information, advice and guidance needed to attract the young, talented and enthusiastic talent we need.

So, in December 2019, rather than sit back and let our business suffer the consequences of a widening skills gap, my team and I reached out to London South East Colleges. This was with the aim of accessing a talent pool and building a positive relationship with a local college for mutual benefit.

The partnership proved highly successful, commencing with the implementation of some ‘teach the teacher' events. This involved inviting college tutors into the hotel and having them take part in our new starter induction. They then shadowed members of staff and received first-hand experience of how a top hotel is run. Updating a tutor's knowledge and perspective of the real-life industry is key to enhancing a young person's understanding of careers on offer to them.

Next, we took things a step further with London South East Colleges and planned a ‘Takeover Week' for February 2020. Twenty students from the college, aged 16 to 18 years old, were interviewed by my team to secure a work experience role in a range of departments, from front of house to sales and marketing. Unlike standard work experience placements, these students were treated as part of the Marriott team, undergoing a new starter induction alongside real employees.

With the pandemic just beginning to affect staff and guests, many of the students gained unique experience and great role models in the exceptional managers dealing with the impending crisis on the ground.

Despite the proximity of the pandemic, the Takeover project was a real success. It enabled the students to see what working in a five-star London hotel is really like, the breadth of job roles on offer, and the many progression and travel opportunities available. Several of the students involved have gone on to undertake further work experience with us and we hope to be able to offer several apprenticeships in the coming months.

To ensure we had the right workforce in place for reopening, we established a second Takeover project for this summer. We can no longer rely on skills from abroad, so home-grown talent has to be our focus. To do this effectively, establishing and nurturing strategic partnerships with colleges is absolutely crucial – and is undoubtedly a win-win for both businesses and the young people coming through this talent stream.

"Establishing and nurturing strategic partnerships with colleges is absolutely crucial - and is undoubtedly a win-win for both businesses and the young people coming through this talent stream."

It has been a tough year for hospitality but as we enter a period of renewed optimism, with bookings rising and people starting to travel once more, we must focus squarely on the future. As a business, we are committed to making ourselves part of the skills solution, rather than problem.

Alex Dimsdale is Assistant Cluster Director of Human Resources - Central London, Marriott International

Related news: Students return to ‘Super-Marriott #2’ after long lockdown 



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