Ripped From the Headlines: Why Hospitality Trainers Are More Important Than Ever

October 14, 2013 | 1812 Views

Ripped From the Headlines: Why Hospitality Trainers Are More Important Than Ever

Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT

Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training | Ivar's & Kidd Valley Restaurants

Just after stumbling out of bed each morning, the first thing I do is scan the local and national news stories posted on a half-dozen different websites.  I don’t read every article, of course, but I do try to read the ones that are important to me either personally or professionally.  And recently I find that I’m interested in more and more news items because they connect with my career as a hospitality trainer.

For example, one of the most common stories lately involves wage protests across the country by workers from restaurants, hotels, and big box chain stores.  A growing number of staffers, especially those who are employed at national fast food franchises in large cities, have been walking off their jobs in a series of one-day strikes in an attempt to focus national attention on the plight of low-wage earners and demand benefits such as a $15 per hour minimum wage, better health care coverage, and more regular work schedules.  These folks are frustrated with their current working conditions, and many of them feel as though they have been stuck in entry-level positions for far too long, are unable to get a raise or promotion, and will never be able to escape the employment basement.

Instead of just hoping that they will not be targeted by one of these protests, however, hospitality companies can get ahead of this situation by ensuring that their training executives effectively partner with the operators to create and promote career development paths for all employees who are interested.  From the first day they are hired, entry-level fry cooks, cashiers, housekeepers or front desk clerks should know exactly what progressive opportunities are available with the company and what they will need to do or learn in order to be considered for these opportunities.  Not every new staffer will have the availability or desire to move up the ladder, of course, but those that do should be aware that their supervisors and the company trainers are ready to help prepare them for higher level positions with higher responsibilities and higher pay.

The training department can also educate individuals on how to respond appropriately when these wage protests occur.  They can partner with Human Resources to make sure that the rights of the strikers are clearly communicated to the managers so that no laws are broken, and they can partner with the Marketing or Media Department to make sure that executives are properly coached with the right talking points (average employee wages, average tenure and turnover, company benefits, etc.) in case they are interviewed by local newspapers or television stations.  Field trainers and training managers are often in a great position to write career success stories for the company newsletter or Facebook page to publicize employees they groomed or mentored from an entry level position and were able to work their way up into management or an executive position.  And finally, training departments can work with multi-unit managers to educate their location-specific supervisors on the exact procedures to follow if a protest does occur outside of their business.  The last thing our industry needs is for an upset manager to fall into the protestors’ trap of trying to create a “YouTube moment” that will show hospitality executives in a bad light.

Wage protests and strikes are only one example, however, of news stories currently affecting the hospitality industry.  If you check out the business section on any given day, you will most likely be able to read a report about a new government regulation, especially in the more progressive US cities, which will change the way that our restaurants and hotels can operate.  Recent high-profile examples of these laws include bans on large sugary sodas and mandatory sick pay for all employees, as well as requirements that quick-service utensils and to-go packaging be made from compostable or recyclable materials, that nutritional data must be posted on menu boards and paper menus, and that hiring managers can no longer ask applicants about their criminal background during initial interviews.  As these changes sweep across the country, our HR, Marketing, and Operating Departments will certainly be involved in crafting company policies to deal with these new laws, but it will often be the training departments that develop learning modules and job aids to explain the changes to the field-based employees and managers, so they in turn can explain them to guests, and it will also often be the training departments that conduct evaluations to see if these changes have been implemented.

Another recent news trend has to do with changing technology; over the past few years, it seems like every day the Internet is reporting on a new product or a new service that will change the world.  From Wi-Fi to smartphones to tablets to Google Glass, tech reporting has exploded from an occasional topic on sites such as Yahoo News and Bing News to one of the most-read sections.  Even as I type this blog post (in early September 2013), the second biggest story today behind developments in Syria is Apple’s release of its new iPhone.  And as budgets continue to shrink for classroom training and rise for e-learning at many hospitality companies, all of these technological achievements and advancements will certainly result in added work for our training departments.  Instructional designers employed by hotels and restaurants are going to have their hands full as they partner with the IT Departments to ensure that:

My final example has to do with allergen and food safety training, for which 84% of the respondents in CHART’s recent State of Training & Development in the Hospitality Industry survey said will be increasingly important.  Food safety has been always a concern for us, of course, and recent news about illnesses caused by Chobani Yogurt and Foster Farms Chicken serve to remind us all about the importance of being diligent when it comes to protecting our guests from food borne diseases.  Food allergies, on the other hand, have been a relatively recent but rapidly growing concern for our industry.  According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011, and restaurant executives don’t have to go much further than a few interviews with their front-line employees to learn more about this trend.  These staffers will undoubtedly say that the number of guests who ask about gluten-free options, for example, has increased significantly from a few years back to this year.

And again, here’s where the training department comes in to play, as we will most likely be the ones who spearhead the effort to compile and distribute this important information.  In order for guests with food sensitivities to make educated decisions about which menu items they can eat, it will be essential that ingredient and allergen listings are available both on company websites and at the time that guests order their meals from cashiers at quick-service restaurants or with servers and bartenders at full-service locations.  Hotel companies will also need to have this information available, even if they do not have a restaurant on the property, as long as there is some food available to their guests – whether it is a free continental breakfast available in the morning, cookies at the front desk, or mints left during turn-down service.

In addition, not only will ingredient and allergen information be needed, but also employees will need to be properly trained on what to do if someone has an allergic reaction:

The answers to these questions will need to be incorporated into any allergen training programs provided by your training departments in order to keep the increasing number of food-sensitive guests safe in your establishments.

I know that I may be completely biased, but I honestly do believe that training is the most difficult of the support functions in any hotel or restaurant chain.  We are the only group that must routinely partner with all of the other internal support functions as well as the operators, and trainers must learn to work with all levels of employees, from the most recent new restaurant hostess or hotel bellman all the way up to the C-Suite executives.  We are expected to be knowledgeable about almost every aspect of the operation (or be able to utilize Subject Matter Experts when we do not possess certain expertise), learn to work in the ever-changing conditions and ever-changing employee lineups in the field, and often must create new and effective educational programs with very little lead time to conduct proper performance gap analyses.  It’s an incredibly challenging position, and one that will only get more challenging in the future as restaurants and hotels need additional training to deal with issues such as wage protests, new government restrictions, rapidly changing technology, and increased safety measures for guests with food allergies….and I could probably write an entirely separate article about training needed for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act!

Because of this great need for additional education in our businesses, I stand by what I wrote in the subtitle of this blog post: hospitality trainers are more important than ever.  Thankfully we have an organization such as CHART to support one another through these challenging times and are able to learn, share, grow, and care with the very best in our industry.  So now I’d like to hear from you in the comments section below: what news stories are you following, and how are they affecting your training department?

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