A new on-the-job training academy for those in hospitality careers could radically alter the way hotel, bar and restaurant staff improve and develop their skills.
Officially launched this week (October 17th), the Hotel Future project will see a fully operational hotel opened in the Oldham area of Greater Manchester, staffed almost entirely by those in vocational training positions.
The 120-bedroom hotel will offer those in hospitality jobs at all levels, from junior apprentices to experienced managers, the chance to enhance their skills in a real-life hotel environment, servicing and interacting with paying customers.
Costing £40 million to develop, the initiative is being led by the Manchester Hoteliers Association (MHA) with the support of Oldham Council and major hotel groups, including Radisson Edwardian Hotels, Hilton Worldwide and the Rezidor Hotel Group.
"This is a completely new idea which we expect will roll out across the UK and maybe beyond," said Stephen Miles, chairman of the MHA and leader of the Hospitality Employers' Consortium that is responsible for the development of the Hotel Future project.
"The key difference is that this is not a catering or hospitality college; it's a real luxury hotel that will succeed on its own merits. It just happens that at every level, apart from general manager and heads of department, the staff will be apprentices, experienced hospitality staff seeking to gain skills and others looking to take a degree to enhance their careers."
The hotel will also include two restaurants – one upscale fine dining the other more casual – providing training opportunities for chefs and those in the food service industry.
Altogether, Hotel Future will offer four levels of training programmes, starting with apprenticeships, with the hotel taking on 100 new apprentices each year, half of which will be funded by scholarships.
The Team Leader programme will offer further education for those already employed in the sector and seeking to move up the ladder, the Middle Management course will allow participants to study for BTEC qualifications aided by the Disney Foundation and finally the Executive Programme will offer university-backed degree and business school qualifications.
"We have the backing of two of the leading universities, Oldham and Manchester Business Colleges and the Disney Foundation," added Mr Miles, "as well as Hilton, Marriott, Malmaison, Carlson Rezidor, Radisson Edwardian, Rocco Forte and other major hotel groups.
"This is a very serious undertaking with major backers and qualifications gained at Hotel Future will be respected not just in the UK but throughout the world."
It is expected that Hotel Future will be up and running in 2015. While once the facility is established, there are plans for similar training hotels to be built in various locations across the country.
The scheme may help to address a common problem in the hospitality sector – that of attracting young people with the right skills and training to the industry.
A recent survey of 16 to 24-year olds by online reservation service Livebookings found that nearly half (43 per cent) said they would not consider hospitality as a career option and it is thought a lack of training opportunities and apprenticeships could be partly to blame.
Commenting on the results of the Livebookings survey, Val Carter, learning and development director at food service company ARAMARK, said: "There is a skills shortage and the moment, so we are crying out for young people keen to develop their skills."
Other industry players are also beginning to realise the importance of offering greater training and development opportunities to young people.
Earlier this year, hotel group Hilton Worldwide announced it is to offer 100 school leavers and young job seekers the chance to develop their hospitality skills at a newly launched apprenticeship academy.
"We recognise the need to ensure young people have access to opportunities and training so they obtain the necessary skills to make them attractive in a global marketplace," said Ben Bengougam, Hilton Worldwide's vice president for human resources in Europe.