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Transforming Hospitality Education to Break Down Barriers and Create Opportunities

with Harsha L'Acqua, Founder of Saira Hospitality

Together with

What would it look like to rethink education and create opportunities through hospitality from the ground up? Today, we're learning from someone who has done this - Harsha L'Acqua, the founder of Saira Hospitality.

We’re also learning about:

  • Soho House stopping enrollment (and what this may mean for membership clubs broadly)

  • Fighting off cybersecurity attacks

  • What’s next for Standard International

  • Trends in hotel amenities

  • Holiday cocktails for a cause

  • Seeing the world through a photo

  • …and more

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Report: The Future of AI Recruitment in Hospitality

Having the right team is essential in a highly competitive industry where exceptional talent is the backbone of your business operations.

Enter AI recruitment. But AI is completely uncharted and often concerning territory for employers in all industries, not just hospitality. It evokes imagery of robots and computers taking jobs. And the topic can spark important conversations around biases and discrimination in the recruitment process. Overall, the concept of AI in recruitment is blurry at best for most stakeholders in the hotel space.

This is why Hireology created this guide — to dig into the intricacies of AI recruitment, explain why it’s a game-changer for your hiring process, and explore its implications for you and your team. Whether you’re seeking seasoned management professionals, high-caliber culinary talent, or guest services all-stars, AI can help you quickly identify the perfect match and make smart hiring decisions.


Transforming Hospitality Education to Break Down Barriers and Create Opportunities

Harsha L’Acqua

Today, we’re learning from Harsha L'Acqua, the visionary founder of Saira Hospitality, and you’re going to get a unique perspective on revolutionizing the hospitality industry through education and community engagement. You might remember Kevin Osterhaus talking about Saira a little while back:

In this conversation, you're going learn how this groundbreaking organization got started, the innovative approach they take to create pop-up schools in partnership with hospitality brands, the process of creating a new curriculum and training process that addresses the real needs in hospitality - and creating compelling, immersive experiences during the recruiting process that will attract and excite the next generation of hospitality providers.

Here are some practical takeaways from our conversation, applicable to any hospitality business:

Identify and Address Real Needs: Harsha saw the need for skilled labor in hospitality and bridged the gap by creating training programs. Similarly, understand the specific needs of your community and industry and find innovative ways to address them.

I saw on the hotel side, a general manager who was a really lovely guy but was struggling to find local talent. And then I saw a lot of development happening [in the area] and I saw a lot of people sitting on the sidelines, watching the hotels being built, not really sure if they have a place for themselves in there. If they could even walk in. Could they take a look? Could they get a job?

These aren't questions, that a lot of local communities who are often overlooked think to themselves as the hotel walls go up, because they're actual walls that are now dividing you between who comes into the hotel and who comes out of the hotel.

Collaborate for Mutual Benefit: The idea of hotels funding training programs in exchange for skilled labor, as done by Saira Hospitality, highlights the importance of creating symbiotic relationships with other entities (like training schools or local communities) for mutual gain.

Focus on Local Talent Development: Saira Hospitality's model of creating pop-up and permanent schools to train local communities emphasizes the value of investing in local talent, which can enhance community relations and provide a reliable source of employees.

"We create schools all around the world, giving people in local communities...the confidence then be able to be placed into jobs and employment at our partner hotels upon graduating from our schools."

Operate with Adaptability: Harsha's transition from a permanent school model to pop-up schools illustrates the importance of adaptability and willingness to evolve your business model in response to changing circumstances and opportunities.

Focus on Practical Education: The curriculum at Saira Hospitality was tailored to the needs of hospitality employers, focusing on practical skills like attention to detail and emotional intelligence. This approach underlines the significance of practical, job-specific training over traditional academic paths in certain contexts.

I started to think, let's not write a curriculum based on what I learned at Cornell. Let me write a curriculum based on what people need to get jobs.

More than anything, [hospitality employers] want the “hospitality gene,” and they want to see that this person has the desire to serve, and the ability to serve, and sees the pride in service.

And so that's what we do. We find these students who have this gene. We give them as much knowledge as we can possibly give them in six weeks. And then we pass them on to the hotels and say, here you go. Here's the talent that we believe would be great for your brand.

Embrace Inclusivity in Hiring: By focusing on often-overlooked communities, Saira Hospitality broadened its talent pool and promoted inclusivity. Adopting a similar approach can diversify and strengthen your workforce.

Promote the Positive Aspects of Service: Combat the stigma around hospitality jobs being seen as servitude by educating potential employees about the pride and professionalism in service roles. This rebranding can help attract more people to the industry.

We first came across this in the British Virgin Islands. And we couldn't understand why no one wanted to take this hospitality school that was being funded by a group of hotels after the hurricanes. A lot of people had lost their jobs and this seemed so obvious to us. Why don't they want to take this school where at the end, they get jobs in hospitality?

And that's when we started unpacking it a lot more and realized that they were seeing service as servitude. That's when we had to do almost like a PR campaign for hospitality. But more than that, it was understanding from them where it's coming from and what they had been conditioned to think and what they had been conditioned to believe about both the industry and about themselves.

Engage Potential Employees: Early engagement with potential employees, like inviting them to experience hotel services, can be an effective recruitment tool. It helps candidates understand and appreciate the industry better.

We started introducing people to what the hotels feel like. What do they look like? What do they taste like? Let's do a fine dining experience for our students where they can actually be in the role of the guest and they can actually experience what high service feels like and what a plate that's beautifully designed looks like and this is stuff they've never had.

While these students and potential students lived on these islands surrounded by the world's best hotels, they never been able to visit them and come inside.

So a lot of our education that was more like come and see what the industry is about. Come and taste it. Come and jump in the pool. Come and check out the beach. Come and see the guest rooms. Come and see what we're selling here and what we're interacting with. This becomes your whole stage, this hotel.

Remember Interviews Are a Two-Way Process: In Saira's model, the students and the hotels actively choose each other, indicating a shift toward a more balanced recruitment process where both parties must appeal to the other.

Practice Continuous Improvement Through Feedback: The evolution of Saira's curriculum, driven by ongoing feedback and global expertise, underlines the need for continuous improvement in training and development programs.

By following Harsha’s lead, you can develop a more effective, inclusive, and innovative approach to managing your hospitality business.

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