Immigrants in hospitality: How to get ahead
Joseph Paul had no idea where he'd work and what he'd do when he fled a war and immigrated from his native Sri Lanka 10 years ago. A timely tip from a friend led him to The Firkin Group, a fast-growing North American chain of pubs and family-style restaurants?and he's never left.
Armed with a Bachelor of Science from Sri Lanka, Paul started as a line cook and is now the kitchen manager at the Owl & Firkin, where he oversees most aspects of kitchen operations, from hiring staff to ordering food and buying equipment. "Before I came here, I had no idea what I'd do," says the 41-year-old. "But if you want to learn, you can do everything."
The Numbers are Clear
Paul is part of a growing trend of job seekers pursuing careers in the restaurant and hospitality industry and finding ample advancement opportunities. Whether working as temporary seasonal staff or taking permanent jobs as new citizens, these workers are becoming an integral part of a vibrant industry.
In 2005, according to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, foreign-born workers made up about 15% of the US civilian labor force aged 16 and over. The restaurant industry is the largest private-sector employee, with 12.5 million employees, according to the National Restaurant Association. Of these, 1.5 million are foreign-born workers, more than are employed in any other industry. The association notes that three out of five quick service restaurant operators and one out of five "white tablecloth" establishment operators expected the demographics of their workforce to become more diverse in 2006.
How To Get Ahead
This is good news for immigrants looking for a home for their talents. As Joseph Paul has found, with the right training and skills upgrading, you can rise in the hospitality and restaurant industry. Paul had already learned English in university in Sri Lanka, but continued to take language classes when he began working in a largely English-speaking environment. He also took mandatory certification courses in all aspects of food handling, safety and health regulations. But he also makes a point of constantly upgrading his knowledge through online business courses.
"I have pretty well created my own job and used independent learning to get ahead," he says. "If you want to learn to work in the kitchen, it's easy. You can even do it part-time because it's easy to fit this in while you're working. There are lots of opportunities in this industry."
Paul's positive experience mirrors that of Maria Biasotti, who immigrated from Argentina and now works as a front desk manager at a four and half star hotel. She is the first point of contact for guests checking into their rooms, so her skills must be polished at all times.
Biasotti already had relevant experience working in reception at hotels in Buenos Aires, Italy, France, and Mexico, but she had no formal hotel training or accreditation. She realized that if she wanted to pursue a serious career in the hospitality industry, she'd need to upgrade her skills.
In addition to on-the-job training, Biasotti took courses in all aspects of service excellence, continued to hone her language skills, and constantly explores other hospitality upgrading opportunities. "I have become interested in taking more courses," she says. "I would love to learn more about catering, so I will try to take courses in this area. I want to explore more options in hospitality because I like to work with people."
Tips for Advancement
- Build a network of contacts. When immigrants arrive in a new country, they often turn to their own community for support and referrals. You can expand your network by becoming part of community groups and cultural centres.
- Study targeted online jobs boards, like hcareers, which focus on opportunities of interest to those in the hospitality industry. These jobs boards supplement the information you gain from your cultural network.
- Look for opportunities to advance in your job. Don't be afraid to speak to your employer about opportunities to move up the ladder in the company.
- Access continuing training, constantly upgrade your language skills.
- Supplement formal training with online courses. You can benefit from a variety of useful business courses you can fit into your schedule and take in your own time.
- Become part of the team at work. Language can be a barrier, not only to communication but also to friendship. If you can overcome this barrier, you'll move ahead more quickly and enjoy real career satisfaction.