Leading Swiss hospitality educator teams up with SA group to fill the talent gap in the 'experience industry'

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Between them, the schools have a network of 28 000 alumni in the hospitality industry as well as other industries.
Between them, the schools have a network of 28 000 alumni in the hospitality industry as well as other industries.
  • Sommet Education, based in Switzerland, has concluded a deal with South Africa's Invictus Education.
  • Both see it as an opportunity for expansion in SA as well as the rest of Africa to fill the skills gap in the hospitality sector.
  • Both groups regard hospitality training as a life-long journey to compete in what they say has essentially become an "experience industry".

Leading Swiss-based hospitality training group Sommet Education announced on Wednesday that it has acquired a majority stake in South Africa's private hospitality training group Invictus Education.

The alliance fits into Sommet's expansion strategy, effectively doubling its global footprint to 17 campuses from nine (in Switzerland, France, Spain, the UK and China) and increasing its capacity to 9 000 students from 6 000. The two groups plan to share knowledge and experience and leverage synergies that will enable further academic curriculum development.

Sommet Education's network consists of two hospitality business schools, namely the Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches, and a culinary and pastry arts school École Ducasse. These institutions offer undergraduate, graduate, and technical training programs to 6 000 students from more than 100 nations, with teaching offered on-campus and through state-of-the-art remote learning platforms.

Between them, the schools have a network of 28 000 alumni in the hospitality industry as well as other industries.

Invictus Education Group consists of the education Institutions International Hotel School and SAE Creative Media Institute and a corporate training business, Summit. It offers both on-campus and online programmes and has educated and trained more than 50 000 students and corporate learners since inception - 30 000 of them in the last five years.    

Sommet Education CEO Benoît-Etienne Domenget says the deal will allow it to leverage on and complement the existing offering of Invictus. 

"Together with Invictus Education Group we will accelerate our development plan in Africa aiming for 20 campuses throughout Africa in the medium-term," said Domenget.

For Invictus Founder and CEO Mike Lambert, their approach is very much experientially focused to ensure students are "job ready" upon graduation. Before the pandemic hit, 93% of Invictus graduates were employed upon graduation. 

Sommet’s accredited programmes also offer a combination of high-quality academic education combined with experiential training.

Together, Sommet and Invictus plan to develop additional campuses and the first project is already in construction in Benoni, due to open in July this year. It will be followed in 2022 by campuses in Mbombela (formally Nelspruit), Potchefstroom, Gqeberha (formally Port Elizabeth) and Pretoria. A first campus in Kenya is scheduled for 2023.

Purpose

"Invictus was established with a simple purpose: to train students to be gainfully employed. Job-focused education is very important for us. Our methodology consists of 50% academic learning and 50% experiential training. We also believe in the lifelong learning approach," says Lambert.

He points out that the hospitality industry does not only consist of hotels and restaurants. Furthermore, the role of online education has become more popular since the pandemic started. The number of online Invictus students has doubled, for example.

"Sommet and Invictus have a shared vision, purpose and values. Sommet discovered us already a year ago and sees us as being able to offer a springboard into the rest of Africa, to the benefit of our students," says Lambert. 

Domenget adds that the mission of Sommet is to train and develop future leaders and generations for the industry.

“We have done that already for more than 60 years. We too believe in lifelong learning and operate with a very high sense of quality and reputation. We are now focused on widening the scope of our activities and broadening our portfolio to develop the future talents needed in the hospitality industry," he explains.

"We believe Africa is an important continent for the future of hospitality. Our alliance with Invictus will bring new heights for both groups. The dynamics of the market are strong, and we share the same vision and strategic view on the needs of the hospitality industry today and in the future."

Covid-19 impact

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the hospitality industry in South Africa. Domenget puts it in perspective by explaining that the industry has weathered huge global crises over the past 20 years - like the global financial crisis in 2008 - and bounced back.

"Each time the hospitality industry rebounded faster and stronger. This is not just wishful thinking. We currently see signs of recovery, especially in Asia. These early signs are telling us that what happened in the past is likely to replicate again, namely a sharp rebound in the hospitality sector," he says.

"Secondly, the hospitality sector is broadening. About 30 to 40 years ago it mainly consisted of hotels and restaurants. Today it has become an experience industry at its core. That is why our education is based on the highest level of academic training combined with employability. The development ‘soft skills’, has become the 'hard currency' of the industry.”

Lambert agrees that the hospitality industry has proven itself in the past to be very versatile and resilient, rebounding quickly.

"There is a sense of pent-up demand I hear anecdotally after speaking to a number of leading hotels in SA. They see a rebound, primarily from the domestic markets as the international gates are not open yet. When international travel can restart, I think there will be a fantastic demand," says Lambert.

"Education is a long-term play. Our enrolments this year is up 5% compared to last year's pre-Covid-19 levels. During the hard lockdown we moved to our online platform and did not lose a single student last year. Parents take the view that, by the time their child graduates, the hospitality industry would have rebounded."

Why SA and why now?

Domenget sees SA as a springboard for Sommet's further development in the rest of Africa. At the same time SA is also a strong hospitality market.

"We strongly consider Africa as being one of the next hot spots of a hospitality boom. One just has to look at the hotel pipeline in Africa. There are already more than 200 properties in the pipeline in key destinations on the continent like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lagos, Cairo and Nairobi,” he says.

"The future is there, but also a skills gap. That is why we have partnered with Invictus to combine our programmes and knowledge. Invictus has demonstrated a very solid reputation and a solid portfolio of programmes for initial as well as life-long education. It has become very important in the hospitality industry to refresh one’s skills to compete."

Lambert concludes by saying that, while it is all very well to have all those hospitality properties in the pipeline, they remain "just buildings" and, therefore, create the opportunity to fill them with competent employees.

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