A Promising Career That Started in the Toilet: Why Young People Should Get Into Travel & Tourism

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I found my true calling at the age of 18, plunging toilets at a Holiday Inn in Washington, D.C. That’s when I first realized that hospitality is the best industry in the world. And I never looked back.

Stories like mine aren’t unusual in our line of work. In fact, half of all hospitality executives got their start in entry-level hotel jobs. That’s a pretty remarkable statistic when you think about it.

And I have been thinking about it. A lot. I have six daughters, and my girls are part of the largest youth generation in human history. And this enormous generation is breaking another, more unenviable record – they’re facing the worst youth unemployment crisis in history, with an astonishing 71 million young people around the world currently looking for work. Young people today are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. And too many of our youth across the globe don’t have the minimum level of basic skills needed to be gainfully employed.

Hilton is unveiling a new survey – in partnership with the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) – that helps tell a story of how careers in hospitality can help to support changes to the employment landscape for today’s youth. Informed by candid responses from 7,600 young people in 30 countries, this survey conveys young people’s views of the world and their futures in it.

The results are surprisingly optimistic when set against that backdrop of record unemployment. Seventy-six percent of youth surveyed agreed with the statement “I will be able to get the kind of job I want.”

And what kind of jobs do they want? Of the young people we surveyed, nearly half (47%) said that jobs in technology were most appealing to them as they thought about their futures. Only 17% viewed working in the hospitality business as an attractive option.

That is because too many of today’s youth think of hotel jobs as dead-end service jobs. That couldn’t be further from the truth:

  1. First, we are and always will be a business of people serving people. Technology is an important part of our business, but it will never replace our people. In other words, hospitality is a safe opportunity for a generation of young workers facing the rising risk of job displacement by automation in other industries – industries like the ones where they currently prefer to work.
  2. Second, hospitality provides upward mobility unlike any other industry. Hospitality is the one industry where attitude matters as much as skills, and with the right combination of both, you can move up quickly through the ranks.
  3. Finally, our business doesn’t succeed unless our Team Members prosper – so we invest a lot in making Hilton a great place to work. From flexible work schedules, to unmatched training and development opportunities, to competitive pay, to generous benefits like paid time off to start a family or industry-leading travel benefits, our first priority is ensuring that our team knows they are at the heart of who we are and what we do.

So how can we change young people’s perceptions about in hospitality? In 2014, we committed to exposing one million young people to careers in hospitality by 2019 through our Open Doors program. Thanks to youth-focused initiatives like our annual Youth in Hospitality celebration and apprenticeship programs, we’re already halfway to this goal – and we’re gaining momentum.

We are making these investments because we know that we have the potential to make a huge contribution toward solving the global youth unemployment crisis – and because it’s critical to our future success. We’re part of the fastest growing job sector in the world: travel and tourism is expected to add 86 million new jobs globally by 2026. At Hilton, we aim to use that engine of employment to ensure today’s generation of optimistic young people can not only dream about a bright future, but live it. We will all succeed when they do.

That first summer I spent working at the Holiday Inn, I plunged so many toilets that my colleagues gave me a gold spray-painted plunger on my last day. My path shows that there are no limits when it comes to careers in hospitality – what starts in the toilet can end up wherever you set your sights.

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