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An image showing two Indian hospitality students looking uncertain.
"In a general college meeting we were told that the authorities aren’t sure when placement season will properly begin." Photo courtesy: Lakshay Runwal (left) and Ishaan Mathur (right).

Mental Health

With No Jobs, Hospitality Students Face an Uncertain Future Due to COVID-19

'It gets difficult emotionally, you don’t feel valued, and this wasn’t even my fault.'

23-year-old Ishaan Mathur thought he was going to have a glittering career when he got admission to Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland, considered by many as the best hospitality school in the world. Things took a turn for the unimaginable in March this year, when a month after graduation, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

“Our industry went into shock. All the travel, all hotels, restaurants, Airbnbs were shut. There were no jobs available,” Mathur told Re:Set. After spending over one crore rupees (nearly $150,000 USD), he expected to land a job commemorative of his education.

“Every hotel, in Switzerland or the U.S. and India has a Management Training Program (MTP) for two to three years where they provide you with administrative and operational training. Every hotel postponed the program till 2021,” he added.

Switzerland lets students stay up to six months after graduation and apply for jobs in the country, so Mathur, originally from India, stayed back and applied to every Swiss hotel, along with many in France and Belgium. He was talking to a hotel in Austria, one of the few still offering MTP, but with the pandemic, the talks broke down. The same thing happened with a hotel in Hong Kong, where he was told they’ve stopped hiring for a year.

“It gets difficult emotionally, you don’t feel valued, and this wasn’t even my fault,” Mathur said. “I exhausted all my options, and was just sitting there alone, getting more depressed by the day and spending more and more money.”

An Indian man looking out at the sea.

“I felt like my four years of hard work went down the drain.” Photo courtesy: Ishaan Mathur

Complete collapse

The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 worldwide. Revenue per room in the U.S. decreased by 80% on average. In the U.K., one in five people — about 660,000 in total — in the hospitality industry have lost their jobs due to the lockdowns. This has resulted in an overall decline in the appeal of the industry for students, with some of India’s best hospitality institutions seeing up to 25% vacant seats for the 2020-21 academic year. But of those already on the market?

In June, Mathur returned to India on an evacuation flight.

He started applying for jobs on LinkedIn and Naukri.com and uploaded his CV for prospective employers. Within a day, he got some offers.

“I felt like OK at least I’m valued here, but then I saw the offer,” he explained. “It was for a field operator for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Those are the people who deliver food for KFC. I don’t want to demean any labour jobs, but that’s way below my educational qualification.”

“It gets difficult emotionally, you don’t feel valued.”

Subsequently, Mathur received similar job offers despite graduating from the top hospitality school in the world.

“It was exploitation as recruiters were trying to get overqualified people below what they should be paid. All recruiters were like this,” he said. “I felt like my four years of hard work went down the drain. Now I don’t know what I will do, what my future will be like.”

Uncertain future

Lakshya Runwal, 23, came to the International Institute of Hotel Management in Pune from the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Now in his final year, he hoped to get a job and learn operations of how to run a restaurant, but with placements having nosedived, the only available jobs are as on the job trainees for ₹4,000-5000 per month ($55-60 USD). Timings vary for fresh graduates, where one can include a night shift till 3 a.m. one day only to report back for a 7 a.m. shift the next.

Including college fees and stay, he has spent nearly ₹12,00,000 (over $16,000 USD) on getting his degree. His father runs a gifting store.

“I had dreams of working in the industry, making something of my own, now I don’t even know if I’ll be employed,” he told Re:Set. “The uncertainty just creates more and more pressure. It makes me anxious about the future, even if it’s just a few months. I might be working in a hotel or working for my father.”

An Indian man wearing a blue and grey chequered shirt and glasses.

Lakshya Runwal doesn’t even know what industry his future lies in. Photo courtesy: Lakshya Runwal

“I get stressed. Last week, in a general college meeting we were told that the authorities aren’t sure when placement season will properly begin. It’s December, usually it starts in August,” he added.

Ansari Kamil is an India-based recruiter for hotels in the Gulf including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait. Last year, he recruited 100 people for various positions, but this year, he hasn’t recruited even one. A total of 9.3 million Indians are employed in various sectors, including hospitality in the Gulf.

“After COVID-19, Gulf countries closed their borders for Indians, we are still waiting for work visas for Indians to get started,” Kamil told Re:Set. “More importantly, the governments are worried for their own citizens because everyone has been affected by the economic downturn. They are prioritizing jobs for their citizens over foreign workers.”

Kamil stressed that the industry can only return to normal when a vaccine is widely available. The timelines are different for each country. In the U.S., the general public can access the vaccine in the second half of 2021. But in the UAE, residents can book for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment immediately.

According to Sukesh Shetty, General Secretary of Indian Hotel & Restaurant Association, fresh graduates from 2021 and 2022, in addition to 2020, will have to wait to get jobs.

“Hiring happens when expansion happens, and right now there is degrowth in the industry,” Shetty told Re:Set. “There are some people at senior level who are still getting jobs, but the rest as we’re seeing are being let go. So, how can [fresh graduates] get hired?”

He projects that hiring will begin from the second half of next year, and come to pre-COVID levels by 2022. Even then, first those people who have been let go because of COVID-19 will be absorbed, after that, if there are jobs, they will go to those who have graduated in the years following that.

“In the meantime, they should try to become entrepreneurs,” Shetty advised. “If they are good chefs, they should open small bakeries. They can learn the practical aspects of the industry rather than only theoretical.”

When told about Shetty’s advice, Runwal sounded surprised, adding, “Without knowing how the industry works, how can anyone start a business?”


Also read: The Trap Year: Indian Students Are Changing Where They Choose to Study Abroad


 

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With No Jobs, Hospitality Students Face an Uncertain Future Due to COVID-19