Apprenticeships in hospitality

Learning on the job: the benefits of apprenticeships

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An apprenticeship can be a brilliant way of training up new hotel staff – as long as it’s done in the right way

It takes more than design and branding for a hotel to gain rave reviews. Lobby artworks, clever apps and fancy bed linens are all good and well, but the key to a successful property is arguably something much simpler: having the right staff in place. Hotels of all categories can live or die by their service levels, a truism that makes having a team with the relevant skills a vital component of any hospitality project. But - the golden question - where do these staff materialise from?

Apprenticeships have long been a fixture in the hotel industry. Not to be confused with internships, which tend to be more temporary and less structured in nature, they provide trainees who are often fresh out of formal education with specific, on-the-job guidance. The theory is that this training process - which generally takes at least a year, and is both paid and supervised - will eventually allow these trainees to shift into more responsible, permanent roles at the hotel.

The advantages of apprenticeships

It’s worth pointing out that apprenticeships are sometimes viewed negatively, synonymous in some minds with poor pay, long hours and sub-par customer service. When handled properly, however, the benefits of training up new talent can be huge. So what should hotels bear in mind when offering apprenticeships, and what do they stand to gain?

A key rule is to ensure the method of training is not just relevant but properly tailored. “Apprenticeships are crucial for hotels in terms of discovering and developing talent,” says Kylie Mansfield, Head of Customer Success at Eko, an online employee platform with offices in Asia, North America and Europe. “But keep in mind that the hospitality industry has the highest percentage of millennial employees compared with other industries, and research shows that today's younger workforce don’t want to learn and develop via paper-based methods. They also want immediate feedback from their leadership.”

Working on a laptop for apprenticeship
'Apprenticeships are crucial for ... discovering and developing talent'. Photo credit: Helloquence, Unsplash


Paul Coley, Group Personnel & Development Manager at upscale hotel group Elite Hotels, is another fan of apprenticeships. “The benefits for the employer far outweigh any downside. Organically growing our own talent has enhanced our business, added value to the customer experience, added to the bottom line and brought loyalty,” he says. “But hotels need to consider the time investment that apprentices need, and the importance of support from their line manager and other colleagues.”

Apprenticeships in practice

There is very real evidence that this approach pays off. The American Hotel & Lodging Association runs an apprenticeship programme with the support of the US Department of Labor. Its website states that 91% of apprentices remain employed after completing programmes, with studies showing that employers receive US$1.47 return in increased productivity for every dollar spent.

In the UK, meanwhile, the luxury Eden Hotel Collection recently won the best Emerging Talent Initiative at the People Awards 2019 for its apprenticeship scheme for employees at its hotel spas. “The success of an apprenticeship scheme is down to three key areas,” says Lisa Redding, Head of HR at the group. “One, being innovative and working to develop an individual programme. Two, preparing your management teams for settling new apprentices who may require more support initially. And three, engaging with parents and guardians to help them understand the need to have their children ‘work ready’. Create information that clearly outlines what parents can do to support them.”

Nurturing an apprentice to become an efficient and committed member of staff can only be achieved via valuable experience

Of course, not all hotel employees are customer-facing, but this doesn’t mean the approach should be any different, says Mansfield. “The goal of nurturing an apprentice to eventually become an efficient and committed member of staff can only be achieved via valuable experience,” she says.

“As a hotel, your ‘non-desk’ employees are often widely dispersed and sometimes in multiple locations, which can present challenges when it comes to inclusion, building rapport and managing feedback. It is easy for an apprentice who is less experienced, and new to the wider team, to feel isolated and disconnected from the business in a short space of time.”

This touches on perhaps the most salient point of all. Namely, that ensuring apprentices feel valued and involved can be the difference between success and failure. “Having the support and backing of your employer adds that extra drive and enthusiasm to apprentices, and gives a desire to move forward and achieve for both the apprentice and the employer,” concludes Redding. “Keeping in regular contact and giving feedback is key.”


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Hero image: credit to javier trueba, Unsplash
  • Having the right staff is integral to the success of a hotel
  • Apprenticeships can be a very efficient way of organically ‘growing’ talent
  • Employers should provide support and feedback throughout an apprenticeship
  • Innovative, individual guidance can be more effective than traditional training
  • Engaging with the parents or guardians of apprentices can be beneficial all round