Bio: Claire Churchard is the digital editor at People Management
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I chose a career in HR after I studied an HND in hospitality management. I started out working in restaurants but I couldn’t see myself as a general manager. I liked many elements of the job, but I particularly enjoyed the people and development side of it. People are a key element of the hospitality business and in HR we have a clear focus on them and from a cost point of view they are important as well. So it made sense to me to focus on people, and look at their training and development.
Working in the hospitality industry for my whole career has given me the opportunity to be part of some large growth-related HR projects. During my time at Paramount, the group grew from running five hotels to managing 20, and while I’ve been at QHotels the number of properties it owns has gone from nine to 21. It has doubled in size because it acquired Marston Hotels. In my experience, investing in staff development was key to engaging our employees through both these periods of growth and change. Training programmes also helped to retain staff after the acquisition of Marston.
At Paramount we launched a management-trainee programme, which linked in with a foundation degree. We worked with the University of Gloucester to develop the content. This was a way to develop and retain employees who were ambitious and who wanted to get on with their careers but who also wanted to gain experience at the same time. Participants got a professional qualification and all of the people who completed the course were in supervisor roles or were assistant managers by the end of it.
I drew on my experience at Paramount to deliver similar staff-development projects at QHotels. We are offering a trainee programme for people at every level and in different disciplines; for example, our chefs can take up a kitchen-management programme to improve their skills. This scheme is about recognising where there are opportunities to develop our own people. We have also launched a foundation degree that will start this September to tie in with the introduction of higher university tuition fees. It is aimed at students looking for a qualification that includes experience relevant to their careers. A major difference from the Paramount scheme is that we are running this ourselves rather than via a university.
Line manager experience is crucial for HR. The hospitality industry puts people in an environment where they have to enjoy being with people. Because of this, I feel strongly that HR professionals should have experience of being a line manager. To do well, you need to understand what it is like to manage a team of people. Finding HR people with this experience can be a challenge because we have people who want to work solely in HR. That is good, but I also think it’s important for HR people to understand what it’s like to manage a team. The benefit of this experience is not specific to hospitality: it relates more widely to HR because it’s only with that kind of understanding that you can be effective in how you support other business functions.
In the future, HR will become more driven by technology as the use of software and social media become more widespread. Things have changed dramatically over the years I’ve worked in HR. In some ways this change is positive, as HR and employees can do more of the function-based tasks online and we can access really good data for analysis. But we must not lose sight of how important people and social skills are. We are finding that some recruits who spend a lot of time on Facebook, for example, don’t actually know how to talk to people. So we mustn’t lose that personal contact.Career highlightsEducation: Fleetwood Grammar School; Blackpool Fylde College (HND hospitality management)Previous roles: Various restaurant management roles, 1986-1988; Forte Hotels – operations manager and HR, 1988-1996; Paramount hotels group – group head of HR, 1996 - 2006; QHotels – HR director 2006, to the presentHobbies: International hot air ballooning