The impact of Covid-19 on the global hospitality sector has been severe, but as people start travelling again, for leisure and business, the sector is expected to bounce back fast. While hospitality personnel have experienced job losses, soft skills they have acquired in hospitality are transferable to many different industries. “Today, hospitality has become a generic term, which includes all sectors where customer satisfaction is key,” says Noémie Danthine, sustainability director of the EHL Group, which runs the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) in Switzerland—regarded the best hospitality school in the world. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, she adds that while many EHL graduates pursue careers in traditional hospitality areas, about half of them work in finance, real estate, luxury and consulting. Excerpts:
In which ways will hospitality management change due to the pandemic?
Hospitality management won’t be revolutionised post-pandemic, but certain trends, which had already started earlier, accelerated a shift towards digitalisation and technology, higher demand for sustainable hospitality, and a larger focus on well-being, kindness, benevolence and inclusion.
Does this ‘shift’ imply that curriculum at hospitality management schools must also change?
EHL is always adapting its curriculum to new trends, while continuing to focus on soft skills and developing our students’ flexibility, customer-service attitude and resilience. Some courses have been added to the curriculum to reflect the current changes (business ethics, corporate responsibility). But we try to ensure EHL Group’s culture and values are in line with what is needed in the industry.
Those EHL students who graduated in 2020, did they all get relevant jobs?
Because EHL trains students not only for the hospitality industry, but for the services industry in general, they graduate with a demonstrated agility and resilience when it comes to finding a job. Therefore, most of our students continue to find relevant jobs. Whether these jobs are what they had their eyes on when choosing EHL to study is another question, which we will need a bit more hindsight to analyse.
Our employability rate evaluates employability one year after graduation, which means we don’t yet have full hindsight on our 2020 graduates’ situation. What we do know is that employability amongst students who graduated in February 2020 has only dropped by 1% compared to the previous year. We do see that more students have a difficult time finding an internship in their last year of studies, and that some students opt for an internship after graduation. However, the number of students who continue studying or start their own business has remained stable compared to the previous year. This indicates that our students looking for a job still have confidence that they will find one in due time.
What are the chances of EHL students who are graduating in 2021 getting relevant jobs?
The hospitality industry is facing a high amount of pent-up demand now that it is safer to travel again, re-gaining its consumers by continuously applying hygiene measures and using advanced technologies. It is an industry with such huge employment potential and our students are so well equipped for it that we think 2020 and 2021 graduates will keep an employment rate close to that of 2019.
Today, hospitality is a generic term, which includes all sectors where customer satisfaction is key. Hence, soft skills acquired in the hospitality management learning journey are transferable to many different industries. While many EHL graduates still pursue careers in traditional hospitality areas, about half of them work in other industries (finance, real estate, luxury and consulting, among others) delivering service excellence to customers. Excellence in the future will be defined by the quality of the human interactions, which explains why other industries are actively recruiting hospitality graduates.
Some analysts say that, due to multiple Covid-19 waves, hospitality sector will take a long time to revive? During this time, some students may want to wait for relevant jobs. One, is it a good idea to wait, considering that next year a new pool of fresh graduates will be in the market? Two, in case they wish to wait, what kind of upskilling courses should they be doing?
Upskilling and lifelong learning, resulting from a shift towards learning throughout life, began at EHL even before Covid-19, with a period of reflection, research and expectations for the future of education to make it suitable to tomorrow’s working environment.
Conversations around upskilling have come to the fore as establishments realise the need to build skills to stay relevant and competitive in the ever-changing environment of a post-pandemic world. During the pandemic, upskilling opportunities were one of the strategies taken by companies but also employees themselves—to beef up their resumes and increase their probability in securing a job at the time of the market upturn.
EHL students tend to be action- and solution-oriented, and very few will take a passive approach to responding to the Covid-19 crisis. This might mean continuing their studies for some of them. Because EHL is an institution that blends education and practice (through our AP programme, internships and consulting projects etc), our students can go on to get a Master’s degree without risking losing the pulse of the industry. As long as they have a clear career path in mind and identify the right degree to pursue this path, we believe they will continue to strive.
Does your syllabus also include courses on ‘climate change and hospitality’?
We do not offer a course specifically on climate change, but we do offer courses related to sustainability as a whole. Knowledge of climate change is something that we assume is already gained through high school. During our preparatory year, we sensitise students about issues at the intersection of climate change and the hospitality industry: waste management, local food, responsible consumption, packaging and recycling. During the Bachelor’s, we have courses on sustainable innovation, CSR and ethics. Outside of the classroom, we raise awareness through ‘sustainability weeks’ and other events related the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
In which ways is EHL training the leaders of tomorrow on sustainability?
We offer a few courses on environmental and social sustainability in our curriculum, both during their hands-on practical year and in the Bachelor’s. But we also believe that our students will become responsible leaders by being held accountable for their behaviour and actions outside of the classroom. We put much emphasis on values, especially the value of respect which is at the core of responsible leadership. We also aim to provide many opportunities to learn about sustainability through projects that students work on, like the organisation of our annual ‘sustainability week’ or during their student business project.