I am one of the fortunate ones.
In many ways, 2020 has provided a lot of opportunities to improve personal career interests, rethink career plans, and grow as a person. But at the same, it has changed the course of life that many graduating students such as myself have experienced.
I was in my last semester at École hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) in Switzerland which is reputed to be one of the best hospitality management schools in the world. I was preparing to graduate and take my first step into the real working world to start building my career. However, on March 16th, the day when most countries in Europe locked down due to the Covid-19 pandemic and schools moved to remote learning, I knew my goals and dreams of having the ideal graduating year would change,
Honestly, if this was my second academic semester and I was studying ‘exciting’ subjects such as accounting and statistics, I wouldn’t have minded studying remotely at home. But, 2020 was supposed to be the most exciting semester of my four years of bachelor studies which included a big student-led business project, our last opportunity to work together in the friendly working environment at EHL. Our team, with Edoardo Bolla, Xinyi Zhang, Anna Tsai and Anna Atanasova, were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the world-famous jeweler Bvlgari and their team. Due to Covid, the exciting business project was gone … just like that! … and replaced by an unexciting research report.
The Class of 2020 will have a hard time according to an April report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), ominously titled A Bad Time to Graduate. “Experience from previous recessions tells us that graduates will be less likely to find work and will start off in lower-paying occupations than they might have expected,” it says.
As Covid-19 became more rampant in Europe, everything about my life as a student began to really change. Graduation had been postponed and with most companies in the travel industry seriously impacted by the pandemic, the Class of 2020 felt the nerve racking anxieties of going into a job market that is more focused on who they’re about to lay off rather than who they’re about to hire. Entry-level jobs became nonexistent or extremely small, and the question – “What on earth am I going to do in 6 months’ time?”- stressed my mind 24/7.
A career in hospitality when the job waiting for us after graduation is no longer there?
The last EHL survey on what EHL students do after graduation revealed 53% work in the hospitality sector and 47% in other sectors … except in 2020 when career options vanished and most future hoteliers questioned a career in an industry that is seriously impacted by intersecting risks and crises.
Surveying all the possible and most optimal decisions to make during Covid-19, I was one of the fortunate ones who did not have to hassle, move and register in a new country during a pandemic; and I am able to pursue a Master’s Degree in the same city of Lausanne. Switzerland is stable with an excellent education sector and it is just a great country overall to be in, considering what is going on in the world.
In a typical year, I have studied, worked, engaged in my personal hobbies, traveled, and explored the world. But 2020 is far from a typical year. Our world is in turmoil and risks are everywhere, and the next few years will be filled with uncertainties.
Through valued Mentors, I have become conscious of the worsening climate emergencies in the last decade, and the need to commit to sustainability with accountability and transparency, and consider the People, Planet and Profit triple bottom line model to Business Plan strategies to lower and mitigate risks. I have also learned about the huge negative impacts of the hospitality sector on communities and the environment, and while many ‘talked the sustainability talk’ few have truly made rigorous sustainability with full accountability and transparency a priority in their operations. Fewer have committed to be carbon neutral and support the 17 Global Goals.
This is possibly because most hotel operators and owners did not consider values and rigorous sustainability as key business drivers or aligned with their concept of luxury. Serious sustainability effort is important to most Generation Y & Z who have a radar for greenwash. It is demotivating to have an internship experience with a luxury hotel that claims to be committed to sustainability, but does not provide training, teamwork, measurement rigour and communication to build a strong communal atmosphere. It does not promote a happy and caring work environment, or bring employees on-board with the big bosses so sustainability is actioned throughout the organization.
In my four years at EHL, only small steps on sustainability were implemented – a waste management system that sorts trash and produces energy for electricity, no plastic cups for drinking, more recycling bins, reduction of printing paper for exams and assignments and the introduction of a sustainability week. It was a disappointment that a student-led sustainability committee was not approved, and when the first Embracing Sustainability Forum was arranged by passionate students, it was not attended by top management and most professors. It was a concern that only one elective course in basic sustainability was offered and while we learned about key hotel operational areas, we were not taught about the need for hotels to take responsibility for their total impacts on communities and the environment; and about the need for solutions to be carbon neutral and support the Global Goals with accountability and transparency. The EHL graduates of 2020 were not prepared for the biggest challenge ahead.
This year, more institutions and companies that did little or nothing on sustainability in previous years have woken up. But many are still ‘talking the sustainability talk’ with creative PR for the opportunity it brings to their pocket and reputation. Many have yet to be truly accountable and transparent, have a sense of urgency, and do it because it is the right thing to do.
Life has shifted for the Class of 2020 amid the turmoil of Covid-19, social justice protests and more extreme climate emergencies. It has given most of us pause and time to rethink and determine what is truly important. Drastic change is overdue and It Must Be NOW that we all do more for the well-being of people and planet, and only seek a future career with organisations with purpose that are accountable and transparent around sustainability, and takes responsibility for their total impacts on communities and the environment.