It’s been a busy start to the year for David Cochrane.
The chief executive of the Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT) Scotland began 2016 by completing hundreds of interviews with people working in, or studying towards a career in, hospitality aiming to secure one of the coveted scholarships awarded each year by HIT Scotland.
This year, demand was unprecedented and the standard of applications higher than ever. More than 500 requests were received – an increase of around 140 on the previous year – and a shortlist of over 300 candidates interviewed for a total of 164 scholarships.
The presentation of this year’s scholarships, in front of 400 delegates at HIT Scotland’s annual Emerging Talent Conference in Glasgow last month, took the total number of scholarships awarded by HIT Scotland in the 11 years since it launched the programme to more than 1500.
Cochrane reckons the numbers speak volumes for the growing professionalism in Scotland’s hospitality industry.
“The scholarships are going from strength to strength,” he told SLTN.
“We had more than 500 applications this year, up about 140 on last year, which is great.
“The shortlisting and interviews for the scholarships is a really tough exercise because there are very talented people working in this industry; applications come from all sorts of outlets and from people in all sorts of roles – from maintenance to accounts to conference and banqueting – and at all stages of their careers.
“People have a much clearer view of what they want to do and how to get there.
“More people are taking hospitality seriously as a career.”
As the industry and its career potential has evolved, so too has the scholarship programme.
First introduced by HIT Scotland in 2005, the initiative began with just eight scholarships. The following year saw 15 scholarships awarded, then 23 and then 94 before stabilising at around the 160 mark.
The range of scholarships available has also broadened.
Initially offering junior management scholarships, the programme now includes senior, middle-senior and junior-middle management as well as specialist categories; there’s a diverse range of scholarships available across the categories, including a five-day experience with the Jumeirah Group in Dubai, a Global Destination Scholarship which was in Goa in 2015, a Glion Executive Scholarship at the Swiss hospitality school’s London campus, scholarships at Lausanne and Disney, as well as entrepreneurial, green tourism and social media scholarships.
The ways in which HIT Scotland works with other trade groups and organisations has evolved too.
This year, the hospitality charity presented five specialised scholarships in collaboration with the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) and The Ben, and 23 to graduates of Diageo-backed hospitality courses: 18 who completed the Scottish Apprenticeship in Hospitality and five Diageo Learning for Life graduates.
“I think that shows the great collaboration there is in the industry,” said Cochrane.
“We’re all in the same boat at the end of the day.”
With this year’s Emerging Talent Conference over and scholarships presented, the remainder of 2016 will largely be taken up with HIT Scotland’s programme of fundraising events, including the ‘HIT the back of the net’ charity football event at Hampden on May 12 and the annual HIT Industry Dinner on June 9, which all help fund the scholarship programme.
Applications for the 2017 scholarships then open in September with a closing date of November 25, 2016.
And Cochrane, the former training manager at Gleneagles who joined HIT Scotland 11 years ago, is confident the organisation and its scholarship programme will continue to go from strength to strength.
“There’s a lot of collaboration between the industry and those who supply it; the sum is definitely greater than the parts,” he said.
“I think that’s where the industry and HIT Scotland have matured – collaboration and working together. It’s all about supporting people in the industry.”