Marshall Dallas, Chief Executive of Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC)

Having worked in the hospitality sector for over 30 years, developing new talent and educational opportunities for the industry is something that I am very passionate about and committed to contributing to.

There can be challenges in encouraging highly skilled talent to choose hospitality as a career, due in part to historic misconceptions of the industry. But I believe that by continuing to professionalise the sector with excellent educational and career opportunities to match, that we will create a stronger and more resilient future, as well as a more attractive and dynamic industry to work in.

Ensuring that our colleges receive adequate support so that they can continue to evolve to stay ahead of expectations is crucial to the future success of our business, at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) and to the industry as a whole. At a time when the industry is facing significant challenges and new ways of working, this has never been more important.

The EICC aspires to create a globally recognised hub of innovation, dynamism and research at the vanguard of hospitality management excellence. Our vision is well-aligned to the ambitions of our city's citizens and elected representatives and we are committed to playing our part in shaping and supporting the long-term future and prosperity of the city. Colleges are a key partner for us in achieving this vision, as they support people to thrive and to connect, whilst also supporting productivity and innovation of businesses.

2020 has been a year which has transformed our industry almost beyond recognition, with conferences and events being postponed or taking place on a virtual platform. Although the Covid-19 Pandemic has been devastating to many parts of our diverse industry, it has also been an opportunity to take stock and reconsider what matters.

The event industry’s reason for being is to bring people together, to enjoy positive and productive experiences where new ideas are inspired – and it is imperative that our educational system supports and enables this.

The introduction of the Covid-19 vaccine signals the potential for soon returning to in-person events. So, it is timely that this new report, from experts in education and business, is calling for colleges and skills to be made central to Scotland’s recovery plans and in creating a fair and green future economy and society.

Scotland already has a collaborative and agile system for post-16 education and skills. But the Covid-19 Pandemic has only exacerbated the need for our approach to progress at a rapid pace to ensure that our industry always has a resilient and dynamic workforce who are adept to working through major business challenges. The Independent Commission on the College of the Future is calling for the existing bold reform agenda to move further and faster, to meet the rapidly changing and complex skills needs of the future.

It is vital that there are clear and quality career paths for students and trainees and a pipeline of qualified people for Scotland’s leisure and tourism industry.  We must make it easier and more attractive for people to enter our sector and to gain the skills they need, ensuring that Scotland’s post-16 education is genuinely there for everyone, whatever their age, ability or circumstance.

Ideas from the Commission to achieve this include empowering anyone to learn by offering access to the grants and loans they need whatever route they take. This has to be coupled with another of their recommendations, which is focussed on making sure that institutions across the system are funded fairly so they can best support sectors and businesses.

It is clear that colleges can help us drive the innovation and entrepreneurialism that our city needs in the future. So, it’s important to establish and formalise partnerships to this end. The Commission’s idea of specialist “hubs” to address critical skills shortages, especially in relation to higher level technical skills (for example, in digital skills), will only make colleges have more impact. This is about renewing the role of colleges and seeing them, and funding them, as a core part of innovation in Scotland. That’s’ why creating a single FE and HE Scottish Government innovation fund, as the Commission proposes, could help to unlock their potential.

The EICC’s pioneering hotel and hotel school development in Edinburgh will see Edinburgh College provide education and training to help address recruitment and skills challenges faced by the hospitality industry in Scotland.

We have to build a strategic partnership approach and we are working with organisations including the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Edinburgh Hotels Association, British Hospitality Association, VisitScotland, Scottish Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland to ensure that the training offered matches the evolving needs and recruitment challenges of the industry. 

The skills of our people and our global industries have been the driver of the EICC’s success over the past twenty-five years. If we are to achieve our vision for Edinburgh and our place in the city in 2050, then the Commission’s recommendations for achieving their vision for the college of the future by 2030 has to be a priority.

Marshall Dallas, Chief Executive of Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC)

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