Hospitality & Leisure: the pull of parallel paths
The importance of job security is understandably at an all time high, but professionals in the retail industry can draw comfort from the broad array of potential career options available to them in the hospitality and leisure industries. We talked to Roddy Watt, recruitment guru in the H&L sectors, for further insight.
Traditionally the discussion of transferable skills for retail professionals almost always pertained to the pursuit of a career within a new sector of the industry or function of a retail business: food to fashion, manager to merchandiser, that sort of thing. Over the years this debate has had to be opened out as the skills that set great retail professionals apart were targeted by other types of businesses - notably in the financial services market. For many people, however, moving beyond the familiar boundaries of the retail industry is either not considered at all (fear of the unknown) or equated with bidding retail farewell. Understandably this is something many are reluctant to do, given the years of hard work they have put into building a retail career.
But such fears only really have any basis if moving away from the retail sector is seen as leaving it for good - and there really is no need for this to be the case in many, if not most circumstances. Particularly not if the industry a person moves to has clear similarities, synergies and development potential to retail itself as is the case with the hospitality and leisure industries. You only have to look back through the advertising pages of this very magazine from the past few years to see multiple examples of businesses in this sector seeking retail talent.
But all of these advertised opportunities put together would only represent the tip of an enormous iceberg in terms of the career potential available to retailers in the H&L sector. This vast, sprawling industry makes up a similar proportion of the UK workforce to retail - roughly one in ten. It encompasses all businesses involved in the provision to the public of food, drink, accommodation and fun (i.e. leisure in its many forms). If you start to think about just how many sorts of businesses this includes it is enough to make your head spin. In order to restore some perspective and to get some real insight into the hospitality and leisure sectors we spoke to Roddy Watt, an acknowledged authority in recruiting within these sectors.
Q: Are there any types of H&L business that suit the retail skillset more readily than others (and vice versa)? If so, what are they and why?
To a large extent, many businesses in the H&L sector are retailing, they are simply retailing food and beverages which have been 'prepared' in some way. Hence those companies that retail on the High Street ranging from quick service businesses such as KFC, Pret and the coffee chains all have and require retail skills. Therefore, at a senior management level, the skills of the H&L operator and retail operator will have significant overlap.
At a grass roots level, there is also overlap as once again, interpersonal skills are at the heart of what employers in both areas seek. Businesses in the more conventional areas of the H&L market such as hotels appear to be a less obvious destination for retail candidates, but even here, the retailers understanding of the cost effective use of space and people management are valuable assets to many larger operators [Travelodge, for example, have in fact marketed their brand as retailers of sleep - App]. So much of H&L is about merchandising and overt sales these days that the overlap between the two becomes stronger and stronger.
Q: What do you see as the key transferable skills between the H&L and retail industries?
Both H&L and retail are largely consumer-focused industries, and generally (albeit not always in the case of H&L) involve interfacing with the public. As such they both demand high quality interpersonal skills, communication skills, customer handling skills plus sales and merchandising skills. Away from the operational coalface, both industries clearly also have support functions ranging from HR to sales & marketing, finance and e-commerce. These are fully transportable disciplines.
Q: What would you characterise as the most attractive aspects about working within hospitality?
The H&L sector is very wide, but can be broken into a number of key areas, Hotels, Pubs, Bars & Restaurants, and Contract Catering & Facilities Management. Each area has many further sub-sectors, and hence again it is very difficult to generalise. However a few general features (albeit not common to all areas) which make the sector attractive are: the environment in which people work which is often pleasant, the structure of the industry which can mean very rapid promotion for those who are able and ambitious, the 'team' nature of the environment in which most people work which can be very encouraging and supportive, and the rewards and remuneration which can be good. Like many sectors, there is a shortage of high calibre individuals, and therefore, there is a huge opportunity for those with real ability.
Q: What are the biggest challenges faced by retail professionals moving into hospitality?
Like any move, there will be challenges, however assuming people are moving into middle to senior management roles, it will be around familiarisation with the way businesses are run, what the key levers are that are used to manage businesses, and how performance is measured.
Q: How difficult is it for candidates who have moved into hospitality from retail to move back (and vice versa)?
Moving industry sector is never that easy, but both sectors have shortages of high calibre individuals - in a normal market. Hence, there is an underlying pressure for employers to be open-minded. Subject to the type of experience, and the kind of role, it should not be that difficult to move back. Clearly people in support functions will find it a great deal easier than say a chef who moves into store management! Instinct says that employers are becoming more open-minded and flexible, and there has never been a better time for people to consider moving sector, and H&L and retail are two which have so many similarities that movement between the two should become increasingly straightforward.
Q: How would you describe the earning potential in the H&L industry?
There is a huge array of different roles in different sectors and generalisations about remuneration are therefore very difficult. However it is fair to say that perceptions of poor pay in the H&L sector are more about perception today than reality. In terms of management-level opportunities, salaries have come a long way in the last 20 years. They have had to, to enable businesses and the H&L sector in general to become more competitive in the employment market place. Throughout the 90s and the early 00s, for example, salaries in the H&L sectors were advancing significantly ahead of RPI in the range of 5% to 9% per annum.
Despite what the various purveyors of doom and gloom might tell you, there are actually very many fantastic careers available within the retail industry. Very evidently, however, there equally many for retail professionals in hospitality & leisure. There are, of course, limitations to the portability of transferable skills. Vocations requiring specialist training or knowledge - whether they are in retail, leisure or hospitality - have natural barriers to entry. An assistant merchandiser whose only background is enjoying The Great British Menu is unlikely to land a job as a sous chef, for example! That said, for the ambitious retail professional, the H&L industry has a lot to offer and doesn't preclude a later return to their retail roots.