For over 100 years, many of the world’s finest hotels have turned to SHL Schweizerische Hotelfachschule Luzern to find the industry’s up-and-coming hoteliers, restauranteurs, and managers. Through the combination of theory and multifaceted internships, the school grooms its students to become the future leaders in the world of hospitality and gastronomy.

It’s a bustling Wednesday morning at SHL as over two hundred students from across Switzerland and beyond gather for Career Day. In the midst of the stimulating conversations and exemplifying the role of the hospitable manager is Timo Albiez. As Deputy Director of the Swiss hospitality school perched above Lake Lucerne, Timo is responsible for the school’s curriculum. He sets the direction of the content, scouts for new topics to integrate into the program, and spearheads initiatives such as Career Day, where over thirty companies present students with a wide breadth of career opportunities.

Honing the #1 skill in the future world of work

“There are so many different possibilities awaiting our students after their education,” Timo says. “Nowadays, industries place a much higher focus on service and have pivoted to customer-centric orientations. Companies know that often, the decision behind someone purchasing a car, for example, has as much to do with the service as it does with the product. They are looking for people who can make customers feel welcomed, good, and at ease. For this, they turn to hospitality students. At today’s fair, we have large chains, boutique hotels, and restaurants, but we also have cruise ships and jewelers—all interested in speaking with our students.”

It seems that there has never been a better time to enter the world of hospitality. In a study recently publicized by the World Economic Forum, “soft skills” were revealed to be the most important trend shaping the working world. In this, the students at SHL already have a distinct advantage as they graduate and enter the workforce. The multifaceted practical experience they gain at SHL—from serving in restaurants to cleaning rooms to attending front desks—equip them with an irreplaceable asset in the future of work: empathy becomes their commodity. “Our students learn how to work with different people and build strong networks. A lot of it really comes down to relationship and stakeholder management, and it’s not surprising that we’ve seen many alumni leave the industry for finance, HR, communication, and leadership roles. These skills are needed everywhere.”

Navigating the big challenges: talent and data

A tour of SHL’s state-of-the-art campus reveals quick evidence of Timo’s statement. From luxury resorts to high-end watchmakers, it doesn’t take long to get inspired by this visual and elegant world of brands and destinations. “We do lose alumni to other industries, of course, and I’ve heard many hotels and restaurants lament about the difficulties of retaining talent,” Timo explains. He predicts HR and recruiting will become a crucial topic for the industry’s professionals in the coming years: as hospitality workers become more sought after, the sector will face challenges in keeping their best people, from chefs to managers. “But ultimately,” he admits, “it’s a positive sign.” It shows that hospitality has a firm footing in the future of work.

Timo’s testimony of the HR challenge is reflective of an increasingly mobile workforce. Last year, the US Bureau Labor of Statistics reported the median employee tenure to be less than five years and that the average person changes jobs an average of twelve times during the span of his or her career. Both numbers are expected to rise in coming years, and the expectation of career-switching (as opposed to job-switching) will also become more pronounced.

For Timo, data and statistics also have a more concrete application: they inevitably shape how workers in the industry operate and go about their daily jobs. “Hospitality workers today have to think about the data available to them so that they can be informed when making decisions, from creating special packages to adjusting booking prices. You absolutely have to get involved with the information. When you look back about 50 years ago, a hotelier was very much an entertainer, a ‘maître de plaisir.’ That is still important today, but more than ever, you also need the foresight to think strategically. Small, family-run hotels frequently run into this problem: they have many ideas and they spread themselves too thin trying to do too much. In the end, they’re very busy working, but they don’t think enough about what’s coming and what’s changing.”

A stepping stone to the world

SHL is also thinking strategically about its own future: the school is set to launch its first English program in the fall—a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management—and looks forward to opening its doors to more international students. Timo anticipates a tremendous impact. “Hospitality is international: many students say it’s the industry where they get to travel. With SHL, they can study in Switzerland, find an internship in Shanghai, return to Lucerne, then have a completely new experience in New York, and perhaps eventually start their own business somewhere. That’s the industry. We have many students who come to us and say, ‘I would like to travel and experience different cultures.’ They’re interested in what’s going on in the world and they’re flexible in their thinking and their lifestyle. For them, it’s not the money that matters: it’s how they can develop themselves, their ideas, and their dreams.”

For those looking to go far in the hospitality industry, Timo leaves a parting tip. “Seek out different positions at different companies in different countries, but take time in doing so. In this fast-moving world, we have the tendency to be too impatient. Careers, just like destinations, take time to explore.”

Timo Albiez, Deputy Director, SHL Schweizerische Hotelfachschule Luzern