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Serving silently

A large segment of the hospitality industry workforce are the so called ‘blue collared’ personnel who work silently, often in back of the house functions. Most hotel companies are now realising the need to develop an inclusive culture for their training, development and welfare, even though they could be outsourced third party workers. By Sudipta Dev

They are the silent personnel who constitute a large part of every hotel’s workforce – the vast majority of behind the scenes workers who are engaged in ensuring that those in front of the office are able to meet the customer’s expectations and uphold their property’s brand reputation. From housekeeping personnel to kitchen staff to those engaged in engineering functions, while these people are core to everyday functioning in a hotel, they are mostly unseen and unheard. It is essential to understand how important hotel companies consider this segment of their workforce. Are there enough opportunities for their training and development? Is their welfare included in the HR vision of the company? The answers are not surprisingly very diverse and represent in many ways the ethos of each organisation.

“The products and services delivered by these employees is the engine to reach out to our guests. Being in the hospitality and service industry, this workforce is irreplaceable,” says D Kavarana, area manager -west and general manager, ITC Maratha, Mumbai. At ITC blue collared employees are hired from different sources – newspaper advertisements, walk-ins, references, etc. The shortlisted candidates go through interviews and if found suitable, detailed background verification is conducted before they are recruited. For French hospitality major Accor, personnel working in back of the house functions such as housekeeping, laundry, kitchen, stewarding, engineering are considered to be an integral part of the human capital that is engaged in delivering exceptional service to the guest. “These back end support functions are critical not only in themselves bit also in ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of their counterparts in the front of the house,” asserts Ashwin Shirali, regional director Human Resources, Accor India. He points out that a front office receptionist may wow and win over a guest with speed and warmth of check in but if the guest laundry is not delivered in time or as per the desired standard, the guest experience will be compromised and the efforts and endeavour of the front office receptionist would have gone waste.

Outsourcing works

Ashwin Shirali

Many hotel companies outsource a large segment of the blue collared workforce from third party organisations. The are primarily two reasons for this – first the challenges in sourcing suitable skilled staff for full time employment, and second, managing them for an efficient performance of duties without expensive supervisory staff. “Third party vendors who have special expertise in managing the same job at a lower cost or with greater efficiency can free up valuable managerial time to focus on enhancing guest satisfaction,” states Shirali.

Grimek Khizakhe

Housekeeping, engineering, kitchen stewarding department, pool operators, gardeners, public area cleaners are the common functions outsourced to a third part by most hotels. Explaining the recruitment process Grimek Khizakhe, manager, Human Resources and Talent Development, Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport says, “The contractor screens the personnel, followed by an interview with the concerned department head and finally the HR department does a background check of the person before he finally gets selected. On the day of joining, the person is briefed about the fire safety and evacuation plans, he then goes through a brief orientation schedule and is later handed over to the department wherein he is assigned a buddy and undergoes a set of on-the job trainings.” The performance of the individual may even lead him to be absorbed in the payrolls of the hotel. He can also be moved from one section to another, for example from public area to room attendant to a supervisory role.

Geeta A Sundrani

Whether an individual is working as an employee with the hotel or on outsourced payroll, he is given more or less same privileges. “There are immense growth opportunities available for an individual who is pleasant, well spoken and committed. Undergraduate working on third party payroll may stagnate, while graduates working on third party may sooner or later be absorbed in,” points out Geeta A Sundrani, director, Oasis Human Resource. Alila Diwa Goa sources employees both through specialised agencies and direct recruitment. Andrea Gracias, assistant human resource manager, Alila Diwa Goa acknowledges that sometimes it is a challenge to find skilled people. Language is also often a barrier. “However we over come these challenges with our robust training modules and support from our third party contractors, who have a strong presence in India and are able to meet our requirements,” adds Gracias. The hotel has created special training modules based on the departments they will be joining such as chemical handling, job knowledge, dos and don’ts, as well as important training modules like communication and grooming, etc.

Training and development

Most hotel companies understand the need for a focused training strategy. Training and development, including a definite career path is also a great motivating tool. In all Accor properties this training includes behavioural/ technical or functional skills to ensure a seamless guest experience. “All associates in back of the house areas whether on hotel payroll or third party payroll are entitled to undergo training and development to enhance their employability whether in positions of superior responsibility or in lateral positions encompassing new skills and job profiles,” states Shirali.

D Kavarana

ITC has a unique initiative that involves the appointment of Departmental Learning Co-coordinators (DLCs). Each department has an employee who is the learning coordinator for his team. He provides guidance and assistance to his team on learning the processes and functions of the department. “We also give utmost importance to guest feedback and design and execute training programmes based on their comments and review. Some of the other training initiatives undertaken by us are induction training, buddy system, on-the-job training, periodical refresher courses,” adds Kavarana. This apart, ITC is also a part of Hunar se Rozgar programme. The ITC Hospitality Management Institute enables existing blue collared employees to enroll for specialised hotel management courses and help them grow professionally. “Employees are provided with many opportunities to grow on the job in both back and front of the house,” points out Kavarana.

Jeetesh Kaprani

For a pure play restaurant group that aims to bring world class dining experiences to India, KA Hospitality (Hakkasan, Yauatcha and Otto Infinito) is also very stringent about the recruitment and training of all category of employees. Each employee goes through an induction and orientation programme acclimatising him with the organisation’s culture and value system, brand standards and personal conduct. “The employee then goes through various technical and product training procedures at the unit through a buddy and mentor system under the guidance of the unit GM and constant progress monitoring through the training department. The focus is on right recruitment,” says Jeetesh Kaprani, vice president Operations, KA Hospitality. “Hotel industry’s excellence is attained only because of its quality and workforce, hence selection criteria for us is the key. Each team member goes through initial screening through HR, technical screening through the unit GM and finally through VP operations. At all three stages, the candidate may not get selected as at every stage we look at getting the right fit.” The company has set up a training cell which is constantly looking at improvising the function and enthusing the team with the right input and helping them to align their personal and organisational goals well.

It is always a challenge to source the right person at the right time for the right position. Kavarana points out that the attrition rate of this work force is also quite high as they are easily lured by the monetary attractions. “A unique initiative undertaken is the WelcomAchievers point. Here, employees are given special reward points for show-casing right conduct, discipline and cooperation at work. These points can be redeemed against cash purchases in the market,” he mentions.

CSR focus

Considering the fact that most personnel engaged in blue collared jobs belong to the economically deprived section, many hotel companies have specific CSR policy for their development and welfare. Accor has a dedicated staff welfare funds with generous use of funds for the well-being of these associates and their families especially in areas of health and education. ITC Maratha has been aiming at providing employment opportunities to the economically deprived locals who reside in the vicinity. “This is a small way of giving back to the society that we live in. Besides this, ITC Maratha also provides vocational training and advocacy for this workforce,” states Kavarana. The company has also employed a respectable number of differently-abled people in various key departments like housekeeping, F&B – Production, HR, front office. “We’ve made sure that they are at par with the other employees by sensitising other employees towards them. This initiative speaks volume about our culture of inclusiveness,” adds Kavarana.

Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport is involved with IHM Mumbai Hunar Se Rozgar Yojana where people who have passed their SSC examination are given opportunity to undergo a six-eight weeks programme in different operations department on completion of which they get a certificate and a career path.

Future skill shortage

Chetan Mehta

Interestingly, while the Hunar se Rozgar Yojana was launched to tackle skill shortage in the industry and create employable talent, the hospitality industry was not involved in the framing of the programme. “It was something like a shock when it was presented to this industry for implementation,” says Chetan Mehta, executive committee member and spokesperson for HRAWI. He feels that the complete initiative of Hunar se Rozgar Yojana has not sunk in with a majority of the hotel companies as yet. But those that have understood this scheme have initiated the process. “Hotels are trying to recruit untrained workforce and are in the process of appointing trainers under the guidance of IHMs and other established hospitality institutes. The government has also built a stipend to attract the untrained workforce. The workforce has an advantage of getting hands on training in the premises of the hotel. This allows them to understand the practical problems faced by them and also arrive at a solution by themselves,” states Mehta, adding that the government should open a dialogue with the industry.

The Taj Group has been at the forefront in this with over 36 skill training centres in India in partnership with governments, foundations, national NGOs and has trained over 8500 youth since 2008.

H N Shrinivas

The hotel group has been in partnership with various stakeholders, training and certifying youth from under-privileged and remote areas and offering various three-six months courses aimed at immediate employability. “The Centre of Excellence (CoE) at the ITI campus in Lonavala will offer the Hunar Se Rozgar programme as well as short term intensive vocational courses aimed at providing the rural youth with high quality learning in spacious classrooms, hone their communication and IT skills, provide cross learning from IHM Aurangabad via the e-classroom as well as develop their practical skills with the use of high end equipment. Students will gain knowledge in areas of accommodation, operations, front office management, housekeeping and technical skills required in the maintenance of hotels,” says HN Shrinivas, senior vice president – Human Resources for Taj Group of Hotels. The new Skill Center at Lonavala will provide various skill training programmes for youth in cookery, bakery, steward skills, technical skills, retail assistant, beauty and salon, etc. “The academy will train over 1000 youth from the neighboring rural and marginalised areas for various vocational programmes in the first year of its operation and plans to train 5000 youth by 2015,” states Shrinivas.

Another step in this direction has been taken by International Tourism Partnership called Youth Career Initiative (YCI). The global programme was introduced in India last year in Mumbai with association of Kherwadi Social Welfare Association (KSWA). Seven hotels from the city provided training to 35 young adults. KSWA was responsible for the recruitment of the participants, the monitoring of the programme and for identifying job opportunities for the graduates. Majority of students on the programme come from the Dharavi Slums area. This year YCI will extend to Delhi as well.

The sustainable solution is to offer vocational training to young adults who have not had the privilege of completing their education so that they learn skills that will enhance their employability in the market. Shirali reminds that such vocational training would have a twin advantage – to the employee it would enhance their confidence and approach to work as they would already have adequate knowledge to perform the job on entering the organisation – to the employer by reducing the need to provide consistent high cost training in elementary aspects of behavioral and technical skills.

Establishing of skill training institutions in rural and semi-urban areas could go a long way in bridging the skill shortage in the sector. Proactive development opportunities in hotels along with monetary and non-monetary benefits are the other important factors.

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