STANDFIRST? Gen Y is here to save hospitality. But can training instill a traditional work ethic – and loyalty – into this decidedly modern workforce? James Stephen reports.

In the past ten years the Asian hospitality industry has evolved almost beyond recognition. Opportunities have come thick and fast in the form of the region’s rapidly expanding middle class and the curiosity of western travellers to explore both further-flung locations and the growing sophistication of already established destinations.

An STR Asia-Pacific Pipeline Report from last year indicated a 6.2% increase in hotel openings year on year, with Shanghai, Jakarta, Chengdu and Bali leading the way. But you don’t need reports, or a crystal ball, to see how Asia’s hospitality industry now leads the world, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Alongside this growth are inevitable challenges in the shape of greater competition, an uncertain economy and increasing staffing issues. And it’s this last, but by no means least point, which has HR managers particularly worked up. Who’s going to run our beautiful new properties? Where are the smart junior managers, prepared to work hard, not look to rise through the ranks too quickly, and stay loyal to their employers? And is Gen Y the answer?

Well, yes and no. Aspirational young people have always been attracted by hospitality’s glittering allure – often to find it’s harder work and less glamorous than they initially surmised. While previous generations have been more pragmatic, prepared to player the longer game, Gen Y wants it now – or at least soon.

So what can the industry do to attract – and as crucially, retain – this talented yet capricious young workforce? And can training and education help?

“If there is one thing Y Gen and millennials are known for it’s a shorter attention span,” says René J.M. Schillings, Managing Director with TOP Hoteliers Hospitality Executive Search Hong Kong. “If employers fail to keep them engaged by not delivering the promised goods they will go elsewhere. This may be seen by the older generation as lack of stamina or loyalty, but today’s trainees need to see there are tangible rewards if they are willing to put in the time and effort – job security and individually set career paths.”

Schillings believes that training can be a powerful retention tool by engaging employees and giving them a sense of belonging, and that companies offering greater training opportunities can draw the best in the industry.

“Of course the younger generation sees training as a means to an end, a way to get ahead in their careers and achieve their own goals, and it therefore comes with an implicit guarantee that when completed, the next step in their career will follow. But if the hotel company cannot offer the trainee a genuine management position upon completion of their training, the millennial hotelier will often say ‘Thank you for training me, and goodbye’.”

Knowledge is power

Vincci Chung, Senior Consultant, HotelsHR Limited in Hong Kong agrees that training can reduce high turnover, especially if more cross-training opportunities can be created to widen employee career paths.

“Most important though is to understand the desire of younger employees to achieve their career goals,” she suggests. “So the employer-employee relationship has to work both ways. As our industry is growing rapidly, hoteliers need to observe and rectify ongoing challenges before they can implement new elements in their training programmes.”

HotelsHR is a leading hospitality executive search firm, providing career placements for renowned hotel chains, resorts, restaurant groups and clubs in Asia. Headquartered in Hong Kong with regional offices in Beijing, the company carries out around 3,000 interviews a year, placing senior candidates in every area of hotel operations.

“Through ongoing training employees can also learn to think more effectively outside the box, while maintaining their employer’s core values,” adds Chung. “However, because most hoteliers are facing staff shortages in some areas, it can be challenging to offer training to all employees. In the long run however, we should be optimistic.”

Training the trainers

Although he also sees the potential of Gen Y, Aspire Globally Managing Director Wayne Fitzharris says the company often comes across disengaged students and trainers who struggle to find relevance in what they teach or learn, with some out of touch because of materials and practices not relevant to the modern hospitality industry.

“For them quality training can be invaluable in imparting a sense of reality, and that is where Aspire Globally often helps. We have taught many teachers to understand trends and practices, and help make these relevant to today’s industry. We also offer industry talks and give practical advise on how help trainees can develop their careers.”

Fitzharris adds that another element is that while millennials often give the illusion of being mature, emotionally connected and ready for industry, their reliance on the internet can make them complacent, often believing everything will be readily available and given to them.

Aspire Globally offers hospitality solutions in executive recruitment, butler and household hospitality training and bespoke consultancy services to luxury homes, leading hotels and restaurants, management contracts and private VIP events.

The company has extensive experience working with hospitality colleges and training centres in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mauritius and the UK, and is often asked to bring its expertise to highlight industry practice to potential hospitality leaders and help train teachers to luxury standards.

“Good training inspires and motivates, creating loyal students and potential employees. Thankfully there are many specialist and institutional colleges that run highly effective training facilities, engaging students with a clear purpose and vision. Motivating and inspiring our next generation will involve greater investment, strategy and vision, alongside partnership with the industry.”