With just under one month to go until the start of the 2014 Hotel Investment Forum India (HIFI) Conference, YCI spoke to Jim Burba, Founder of the Burba Hotel Network, which produces HIFI.
As India’s most important hotel investment conference, HIFI convenes the leaders in the Indian hotel and tourism industry. HIFI is also a proud partner and one of the key funders of the Youth Career Initiative (YCI) in India.

YCI is a 24-week life and work skills programme for disadvantaged young people. The India country programme was the latest addition to YCI’s global presence, which now operates in 12 countries across the world. The HIFI conference provided funding to launch the pilot in Mumbai in 2012, and its continued support has enabled the YCI Global Team to extend its work to New Delhi in 2013.

YCI has the power to transform lives

Looking back to the beginning of the HIFI support for YCI, Jim Burba says: “Most hotels and hotel companies have CSR commitments and programmes and it can be hard to pick new programmes to support as there are so many great causes out there. Over the years, we had heard about the good work being done by YCI, but when we finally ‘really’ focussed on it, we learned it was more than good work, it was great work with tangible and relatively immediate success stories in our industry.”

With global youth unemployment at a record high of almost 75 million (ILO), YCI offers a practical solution to bridge the gap between the growing industry need for a skilled workforce on the one hand, and the many young people struggling to find a job on the other. In the particular case of the hotel sector, Jim explains: “The industry has an enormous need for human resources that isn’t going away and at the same time the sector can offer great entry-level jobs for younger members of society.  By supporting YCI, you help under-privileged youth break the cycle of poverty and get a fresh start in life.  It’s a life-changing programme for those young people who participate, and it is an amazing way for a hotel to be engaged with the local community. Being part of the effort that helped launch YCI India was a no-brainer for BHN and HIFI.”

In addition to equipping the participants with transferable skills that are essential for their insertion into the labour market, YCI triggers a deeper change within the young people that go through the programme; there is strong evidence across all YCI markets of a transformative effect. YCI gives its participants a sense of direction and responsibility and a real motivation to develop a career path. This is particularly powerful considering the starting point from which a lot of young people join the programme. Most of them are stuck in a situation where they are unable to find employment and can’t afford to go into further education. Moreover, unsure of what the future holds for them, they lack clear goals and interests and they can often find themselves at risk of exploitation. Deepanshu Sharma, 2012 graduate of the Hyatt Regency Delhi, says: “I was doing nothing before YCI. YCI has made me change. I am confident to speak with anyone now. My friend circle has changed. My standard has improved.” The change in the students is very noticeable for the staff at the participating hotels. Ms. Majima, Training Manager at Trident Bandra Kurla in Mumbai, says that YCI has given them the chance to get their own hotel staff engaged: “The trainers at the hotel felt involved knowing they would transform these kids into something fabulous after six months. This has truly been a rewarding experience for us.”

The majority develop a real passion for the hotel sector. Ranjeet Kumar, graduate of the Westin Gurgaon, Delhi, says: “YCI was an opportunity to explore the hotel industry. Now I have opened up, I am more confident, I can talk a little English now. I want to work in a hotel. There are many kids like me at my village who will get benefit from this if these hotels continue their support further.”

Fitting the operational strategy around market needs

The key to YCI’s success is the fact that each programme responds to the specific needs of the market in which it operates. In the case of India, the initiative has strong links with local community groups via its partnership with the Kherwadi Social Welfare Association. YCI is also aligned with the requirements of Hunar Se Rozgar, the governmental apprenticeship scheme. Participating in YCI assists hotels to meet their Hunar Se Rozgar requirements. Rimal D’Silva, Human Resources Manager at the Four Seasons Mumbai says: “We fully support YCI in creating employability for the country’s youth and we are honoured to be a part of it.”
With the development of a skilled workforce a major priority for the industry, programmes like YCI have the potential for substantial scale in a country like India. Jim adds: “It is important that every owner and operator takes a few minutes to learn more about YCI and the good work currently being done in Mumbai and Delhi.  The programmes can be expanded in these cities and replicated throughout the country with the financial and operational support of owners, investors and operators.”

The timing seems very favourable. As YCI India starts to prepare its third year of operation for 2014, companies will start incorporating the recommendations of the Companies Act 2013 which the Indian government passed earlier this year. The Act encourages companies to spend at least 2% of their average net profit over the previous three years on CSR activities. One of the core eligible activities included in the Act is the promotion of education, so YCI provides a good investment opportunity for hotel companies and investors in order to demonstrate their CSR commitment. As Jim states: “There is not a person that we have spoken to about YCI (inside or outside of the hotel industry) who isn’t impressed with the goals, objectives and success rate of the initiative.  At HIFI, we are committed to continue to support YCI financially and also to shine the spotlight on this important programme to further increase the involvement of the hotel investment community.”