Skift Take

As the global hospitality industry evolves in a more integrated and digitally connected world, it’s demanding that employees have more multidisciplinary skills and nuanced worldviews. However, the industry needs to redefine its value proposition for young talent seeking a rewarding lifetime career with unlimited potential for personal and professional development.

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One of the most frequent discussions I have with hospitality employers and businesses around the country is that the industry doesn’t properly market itself to prospective future employees and leaders. In a 2016 interview with Skift, I highlighted the stigma around employment in hospitality, including low pay and a mistaken assumption that hospitality means servitude. Yet, we all know how glamorous, fulfilling, and enlightening work in the travel space can be, oftentimes disproving those negative connotations.

Despite this, our recruitment efforts frequently leave us wanting more from our candidates, with the best and brightest being lured to more attractive jobs elsewhere. In order to find and shape a set of exceptional rising talent, the leaders of the industry need to collectively and strategically act now.

Following suit, I interviewed some of the adjunct faculty and advisory board members in the Georgetown University master’s in Global Hospitality Leadership program, all of whom work full-time in the industry. I wanted to gain a better understanding of the state of talent recruitment in hospitality, specifically: who’s doing it right, and what needs to be done to better market ourselves and build a remarkable foundation of leaders that will shape the future of travel.

Here are the questions put forward and a sampling of answers from the faculty and board members:

Which companies are attracting the right talent for the right reasons in this industry?

“Companies that have a focus on innovation and continuous improvement combined with a certain self-autonomy will continue to attract the best talent of the upcoming generations.”

Wolfgang Lindlbauer, former Chief of Global Operations – Marriott International

“Marriott and Hilton are making their sustainability and philanthropic pursuits well known to prospective associates. With millennials so focused on work/life balance and wanting to give back, I think they are answering that call well.”

Shannon Rinella, Sr. Director, Talent Development – Interstate Hotels

“The size and scale of the [hotel] industry welcomes employees attracted to a wide scope of vocations and lifelong job opportunities.That is the main focus of a new American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) campaign, Dreams Happen Here, which underscores this path to upward mobility and showcases the many individual stories of success in our industry.”

Brad Aldrich, SVP Business Development – American Hotel & Lodging Association

What gaps currently exist for hospitality companies that prohibit attracting the right talent?

“In the quest to find the very best talent in hospitality, the industry would be best served to follow in the steps of what leadership and management consulting firms have been doing for decades: using research-based assessments for selection and career development to measure whether or not someone has what I call ‘the hospitality gene.’ Most hiring managers hire people based on relationship, positive projection, and identity with self, and/or an overly biased positive view (the halo effect), rather than the psychological factors that make someone customer-focused and service-oriented. My research shows that when it comes to hiring the best talent, empathy does not register as correlated with customer-centricity — altruism does, as does a high problem-solving ability.”

Mia Mulrennan, VP & Chief Talent Officer – Sun Country Airlines & Founder – Rave-Worthy LLC

“The industry prestige factor continues to be a barrier. We continue to be known as a place where you can have a job, but rarely a career. Hotels are not known as a high-income-generating industry, and sometimes getting highly educated talent to fill our roles — knowing that those individuals may need to start with very low incomes to eventually get to the peak — can be difficult.”

Shannon Rinella

What can a company do to attract the best candidates?

“One thing all of us in the industry need to re-examine is the old growth model where to move up, you had to move around. People seem to be less willing to do that now, so how do you keep great talent engaged, right where they want to be?”

Shannon Rinella

“In order to attract and retain top talent, any industry must stay current about where to find new leaders! At Google, our CEO Sundar Pichai recently made diversity — all types of diversity — a top priority as we grow our workforce globally. This could be applied to the hospitality industry as well. Recruit in new places! Explore opportunities to hire emerging leaders of different backgrounds, from different industries, and new degree programs.”

Carley Graham Garcia, Head of Industry Relations – Google, Inc.

“Over the past few years, the industry has redoubled efforts to ensure that the resources are in place to provide scholarships and apprenticeship programs that will allow hoteliers to foster a strong pipeline of future talent. Recently, AHLA, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), and Jobs for the Future (JFF) partnered to create and implement a national Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship (HSRA) initiative for the restaurant, foodservice, and hotel and lodging industries. Apprenticeship is a proven way for employers to build the talent they need and for workers to obtain skills and credentials that put them on a path to successful careers.”

Brad Aldrich

What can aspiring hospitality associates and leaders do to make themselves the best possible fit for this quickly evolving industry?

“The single most important thing aspiring hospitality associate leaders can do to prepare themselves for this industry is to be curious. Whether it be customer needs, technology, or new entrants, to a name a few, this marketplace is rapidly changing. Leaders need to understand what is happening, embrace change, ask questions, and read materials in order to put together a comprehensive strategic plan.”

Douglas Lisi, Hospitality Adjunct Faculty – Georgetown University

“Stay on top of changes and innovations. The world is open, communication is instant and worldwide, and therefore customer expectations are increasing. We need to prepare our current hospitality professionals with those skillsets and the mindset to continuously improve and act. That includes having an awareness of other businesses and industries with the ability to translate advantages for our business.”

Wolfgang Lindlbauer

“Be a voracious learner. Know what’s going on in your property and properties around the country. Some say “adapt or die” but I prefer “adapt and thrive.” Know what may be coming next and push yourself to be aware of emerging trends and technology.”

Shannon Rinella

“While an individual’s career roadmap may outline the titles or roles ones is looking for, an understanding of the skills and expertise required is arguably more important. Careers are increasingly more oriented around gaining new experiences versus title or level. Organizations are becoming increasingly more fluid and role boundaries are blurring. Accordingly, individuals need to be more open to different routes if they can achieve the same end result.”

Douglas Lisi

Even in the hospitality world, not all organizations are the same, but our common struggle to attract the best talent is a real problem we are all facing. The hospitality industry must act as a whole create some standard recruitment practices and collectively market to a new and rising workforce. At the same time, it is imperative for companies to maintain their individual uniqueness and differentiators, not only for prospective guests but also for future employees that will help shape the industry’s future.

— Gray Shealy, Faculty, Master’s in Global Hospitality Leadership – Georgetown University

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