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Serving five-star careers

Published on Friday, 26 Jul 2013
Illustration: Bay Leung
Heinsen Chan
Ellie Chan

The once-staid hotel industry is adapting to the expectations of Gen Y to lure fresh talent

I had a conversion via text message recently with a young real estate agent who works near my apartment complex. "Transactions are so low, I've got no income and I'm really stressed," he said. "I majored in marketing but it's so hard to find a marketing job, plus the salary is low and there's always overtime. Are there any good job opportunities out there?"

I mentioned that there were a lot of jobs available in the hotel industry at the moment and that hotels were doing all they could to attract more staff. He acted like he'd missed my message. "My friend told me to try gold and diamond sales. I might be able to make HK$19K-20K a month," he texted back.

He is not alone in his dismissive attitude. Hong Kong's hotel industry has a large and growing need to recruit new employees, but many young people are put off applying for these jobs because they see the work as difficult, with long or irregular hours. On the flip side, those willing to consider working in the hotel industry will find it is offering many opportunities.

Local hotels are constantly hiring. Both The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong and Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Kowloon East, for example, are currently seeking nearly a dozen staff each for food and beverage and other operational roles, and both are continuously recruiting.

"The need for hiring people is always there," says Heinsen Chan, director of human resources for Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Kowloon East. "More and more hotels are opening up … In 2012, we had about 4,500 more hotel rooms added to the market, and in 2013, we'll have another 4,500. All these rooms need to be taken care of."

But Chan says it is difficult for hotels to attract and retain young people to work in these positions. Younger people tend to be put off working in operational roles because of the difficult nature of the job.

"The hotel industry, especially the operations side, is really hard work with long or irregular hours," Chan says. "The new generation, they're not really ready or willing to take up that hard work and they easily quit [or] they don't want to enter this industry in the first place."

While Chan concedes the work can be tough, he says there are a number of reasons why young jobseekers might want to reconsider. First is the fact that roles in the hotel industry offer employees a lot more variety than in other sectors.

"The hotel industry is a very dynamic industry," he says. "You have different things happening every day, you meet different people … If you enjoy variety, meeting people and challenges, it is a rewarding industry to work in."

Another reason to join is that the hotel industry currently offers many opportunities for fast-track career advancement. Many hotel groups are opening new properties across the region and creating a lot of new positions. They are also actively looking to train up and promote employees to fill positions within their existing properties.

"We are seeing a lot of examples like this," Chan says, adding that he has seen people moving from operational roles through to senior managerial positions.

Chan also believes that the difficulty hotels have attracting young employees will prompt the hotels to adjust roles to make them more desirable. "The market will respond," he says. "They will gradually have to change the environment, the working hours and the remuneration."

One hotel that has already succeeded in becoming attractive to younger employees is The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. About 53 per cent of the hotel's employees belong to Generation Y, and it aims to offer a work environment suited to these young staff.

"Today's workforce is very different from past generations," say Ellie Chan, the hotel's director of human resources. "We should recognise and accept their differences. We should find ways to adjust to their needs and wants, rather than sticking to a very traditional style of management and policy."

The hotel aims to empower employees to act independently. Each staff member is told that they have US$2,000 to use however they want to deliver an amazing experience to guests. "It's empowering," Chan says. "You don't have to ask for approval from your supervisor, you just go and do it."

Alongside this, the hotel places a lot of emphasis on recognition to ensure employees feel their work is valued. It has "First Class" cards, small slips on which company employees at all levels can write and thank colleagues for good work. Employees are also given awards for outstanding work, including a Five Star Employee badge and a Ritz-Carlton coin.

The hotel also aims to provide employees with extensive opportunities to develop their careers. This is important, Chan says, because otherwise young employees will seek career advancement elsewhere. Employees are encouraged to discuss their wishes to transfer or gain promotion.

"We have an open-door policy," Chan says. "We give people the opportunity to unleash their potential."

These distinctive features of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong's work environment all helped it win "Best Employer for Generation Y" in Aon Hewitt's Best Employers Hong Kong 2013 Awards.

With more hotels today adapting to suit younger employees by offering interesting work and good career-advancement opportunities, those like my stressed-out, financially unstable real estate agent friend might want to give the industry a little more consideration.

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