"Embrace your passion! Listen to yourself" Michel Rochat CEO EHL Group

7 min reading time

Published on 03/01/22 - Updated on 17/03/22

In our special Hospitality ON issue on hospitality management schools and trainings (No 308-309/May-June 2021) we interviewed Academic Directors of renowned hotel schools around the world. Here we unveil insights from Michel Rochat, CEO, Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne.

What innovations, programmes and projects have been implemented in your school over
the last two years ?

The last two years have been pivotal for EHL Group. Wehave opened our third international campus in Singapore, which has already welcomed postgraduate students for short management courses and willbwelcome Bachelor and EMBA students in September 2021.

We have made good progress on the expansion of our campus in Lausanne, which will be officially inaugurated in 2022 and will offer our students top notch infrastructures. Also, we had been planning for a long time to move out of certain old pedagogical systems, but because of the sudden COVID-19 circumstances, we decided to accelerate the existing digitization strategy. We implemented a hybrid teaching model called HyFlex.

This system separates the classroom in two groups of students: one group is able to follow the course in the classroom, while the rest follow the course live from their home. On site presences are organized in a rotation, so that all students have the same opportunities for presence on campus. The HyFlex model is an agent for change and conviction, at once practical, fair and professional. It offers organized flexibility for both on campus and remote learning, with the chance to catch up on anything missed by re-watching recorded classes online within 24 hours.

What approach(es) has your school chosen to train its students? What are the specificities of your schools? 

Time and again, we hear employers across industries saying that academic qualifications alone do not generate employees ready for the workplace. More than ever today, there is a need for educational solutions that balance theoretical and practical learning.

At EHL, we have a 125-year heritage of dual education where theoretical principles are systematically coupled with practical skills. We believe that the current strides being made in the digitalization of education represent a not-to-be-missed opportunity to enhance experiential learning, not diminish it.

At EHL, as we continue our expansion in digital education, we also continuously invest in systems and initiatives that enhance and streamline our exchange with the industry, which we believe is at the heart of our continuous success. Our International Advisory Board of professionals keeps us up to date with real time, real life advice. Our regular guest speakers and practical workshops provide us with constant feedback. EHL Alliance, a network of corporations that can easily get access to a selection of our services are an important channel of information. And of course, our students’ internships provide them –and therefore us – with the necessary feedback from the field that further feeds our understanding of the international hospitality industry.

But most importantly, it’s the Student Business Projects (SBPs) that have become, today, the true heart of our experiential learning system, in a way that will continue to grow in the coming years. At the end of their bachelor program, the students are asked to deliver work on a real-life project mandated by an external company, which provides them with invaluable insights on the current challenges within the industry. At this stage in their learning process – having already applied theory in real life during their internships – they absorb learning in a much more profound and lasting way. Today, twenty years after the creation of the SBP programme, students are regularly hired by the clients for which they have provided this service, which is another great example of immediate employability thanks to experiential learning.

Has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the students interest in the hospitality industry?

No, I do not think so. In the midst of the pandemic last year, we welcomed the largest cohort of students EHL has ever seen. I believe this is a sign that the hospitality industry has a bright future ahead of it.

At EHL, about half of our alumni work in the hospitality industry in the strict sense of the word, namely in the restaurant and hotel business. While the other half of our graduates work in other sectors where the customer experience is key, such as luxury, insurance, banking, consulting, real estate, etc. It is possible that our students are momentarily moving more into these branches of the hospitality industry. However, I am convinced that the hotel, restaurant and tourism industry as a whole will need ambitious and passionate talents able to draw the contours of a post-COVID-19 world that is caring and respectful of humans and the environment. It is both a tragic and fascinating time for our industry and in order to reinvent itself the hospitality industry definitely needs the involvement of the younger generations.

What values / skills do you think are necessary for the hospitality industry that should be taught in a hotel school?

For over a year now we have been practicing social distancing. For most industries, the pandemic has caused dramatic change in the daily life of employees and leaders. To ensure connection remains, it is important for leaders to demonstrate their soft skills, and in particular the skill of empathy.

Now, more than ever, leaders, from all industries, need to remember the important role of empathy to ensure that social distancing, or the physical distance with teams or guests, doesn’t lead to an emotional disconnect. This comes as the need for a more systematic approach to compassion and benevolence is also noticeable with younger generations. Educational institutions who understand this will be in the best position to prepare the next generation of compassionate leaders.
At EHL, we believe that excellence is born from the perfect blend of hard and soft skills and therefore our programs are based on dual education (experiential learning) that combine these skills.

What do you think hoteliers need to do to attract & keep young talent ?

This is not new: creating a learning culture within an organization such as a hotel is the only way to remain competitive in today’s global marketplace. Also, it has a direct positive impact on employees’ satisfaction and retention. Improving performance, innovating and being able to adapt to an ever-changing environment is the kind of agility that companies expect from their staff, but employees also find it necessary– and rewarding - to continuously update their knowledge and skills as new technologies and trends become available. Millennials, or “Generation Y” -people born approximately between the mid-80s and the mid-90s - will be the largest share of the global workforce by 2030. This generation has understood that they will not have the same job for life and that they will probably work longer before retirement than generation X and baby boomers. For them there is no such thing as the distinction between traditional education and continuous education, there is just one thing: lifelong learning.

Thus hotels need to offer upskilling and reskilling opportunities to attract and retain young talents. Also, the role of a leader is now also one of a coach, where the art of asking questions to drive people to challenge their own thinking and increase their own awareness is vital.

What features/partnerships are you looking for?

We are constantly looking for new industry partners in the hospitality sector and beyond via an entity of our Group called EHL Alliance. EHL Alliance is an exclusive global network that connects leadership professionals with peers and academic resources to elevate the future of hospitality and other business sectors. Our partners are an important channel of information and enable us to stay close to the industry. The founding members of EHL Alliance are ambitious companies with strong values who owe their success to their ability to look beyond the status quo.

What message would you give to hoteliers?

Unlike many other industries, the hospitality industry has already experienced many disruptions
since its beginnings, and it is because of its great resilience and innovative strength that it has always been able to reinvent itself and thrive. The COVID-19 crisis marks a new chapter in our history and to begin writing it, hospitality professionals will have to go even further in their innovation efforts, embrace change by truly reinventing themselves and most importantly, continue to deliver their passion for service excellence.

What message would you give to future generations ?

Embrace your passion! Listen to yourself and choose an education that gives you the tools to succeed no matter what business or career aspirations you want to pursue. And do not forget that the successful leaders of tomorrow will be the ones equipped with a blend of both hard and soft skills.

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