Adele Oxberry FIH is the founder and CEO of Umbrella Training, a leading nationwide training and apprenticeship provider for the hospitality industry.
We took five minutes out recently to catch up with Adele and find out why hospitality and training are both lifetime passions for her.
How did you get into the industry?
My mother was the executive housekeeper in the five-star Mayfair market and after much demand from me for branded trainers and make-up, she suggested I work weekends to earn the money to pay for them.
So, from the age of 14, I decided to undertake work as a room attendant during summer holidays, after school and at weekends.
I then went to college to study for City & Guilds 708 and 709, which was then really the start of my career.
At 18, I was a housekeeper for the VIP floor at the Britannia hotel in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. I was the youngest housekeeper at the time for the InterContinental Hotels-owned group. Their brilliant learning and development teams made sure I attended several training courses, during which I soon identified that I loved the idea of being a receptionist where I could “meet and greet” customers. You could say this was a form of apprenticeship but without the title.
After running some high-end hotel reception desks and reservation teams, I eventually become the front of house manager at a private gentleman’s club for over eight years.
The whole perception of the front office alongside learning about turnover, profit and loss was fascinating to me, so was developing new members of staff. I trained daily and learned so much by doing my assessing qualifications for the notorious NVQs at that time. I found a passion for training others and sharing my knowledge and wanted to make this a full-time career.
What brought you to develop Umbrella Training?
Once I left working on the frontline in hospitality, I worked for a national training provider and became an NVQ assessor.
Eventually I became the area manager and, with the support of a great team around me, we managed to turn London around from being the worst-performing region to being recognised as one of the best in terms of quality and finance. Two important aspects needed for a good training provider.
I found my niche here and learned from some brilliant people with whom I am still friends today. Due to a company restructure and business sale, an opportunity arose to start another national training provider with a group of colleagues, and I jumped at it.
On formation of the business, I was the sole employee – this later became the largest region in terms of learner population, performance and financial outcomes.
The new apprenticeship landscape excited me, so I decided I wanted to start on my own. I wanted to create something which was more than just numbers.
I could see the direction of travel would be about meaningful apprenticeships, quality over volume. I was fortunate to have had a broad range of experience and I was very passionate about creating something very different to the apprenticeships that employers had been used to previously.
Developing people has been at the heart of what I do since I was 22. I am born into a sector that is all about people and service and it is my passion. I have learned from the best in all aspects of my life and knew Umbrella could make this difference with the right guidance and support from the excellent team we have.
The new landscape means employers truly own their schemes and can have better retention rates if they really apply them in line with their people strategies. Our sector is a wonderful breeding ground for all the skills you will need in any job in any sector.
Apprenticeships in hospitality enable people to go from being a novice to becoming an expert very quickly, rising through the ranks at an early age. No other profession does this, and apprenticeships are brilliant to first time entrants of any age.
How has your business evolved?
We incorporated in 2012 and now have more than 400 apprentices. We are small and niche with a focus on meaningful apprenticeships and development programmes.
The business is more than a training provider of apprenticeships; as we are also heavily involved with informing Government on new landscapes for learning and development policy, as well as being a huge part of the trailblazer groups for apprenticeships launched by the Government in 2013 as part of its apprenticeship reform.
Because of our focus, we have grown from being a London-centric business to now holding the status of a national provider with the Education and Skills Funding Agency.
Our demand has grown organically for the last few years and now we find ourselves in a position of creating and innovating new development and apprenticeships programmes that are aligned to the sector and its emerging needs.
Our business is really aimed at employers who want to make apprenticeships and people development a key part of their people strategy and culture.
In the 2018/2019 academic year, we became one of the leading training providers for the hospitality sector according to the most recent data published by the government. We take our jobs seriously and deliver with compassion, we genuinely care.
Why do apprenticeships matter?
Apprenticeships matter as they are the lifeline for the future of hospitality. The government introduced a levy to business indicating how important apprenticeships are for the economy and skills agendas. They provide employment opportunities and the development of the next generation.
Trailblazer groups were set up by government with key employers who designed the new apprenticeship standards for the sector. We were proudly a part of this initial design and implementation.
In-house training helps businesses grow but an accredited and effective apprenticeship programme can take your business to new heights and they are proven to give a better return on investment.
Most large business have to pay the apprenticeship levy and for some this is the only “training budget” they have, especially during challenging times, so it makes sense to use it wisely and with a view to ensure you have the results you need as a business.
What inspires you?
In short, people.
I am fascinated by the stories of their lives, their accomplishments and when they overcome adversity.
Closer to home, I have to say my team, who truly make us what we are.
We’ve got an excellent group of people who are truly passionate about learning. All of our trainers are qualified teachers and hospitality professionals; we are very fortunate to have a such a talented group of people working with us.
In the wider sector, my inspiration comes from a lot of our ‘Hospitality Superheroes’. These are people who are determined to ensure hospitality is seen as it should be: a brilliant place to work that will develop you and nurture you, like a family.
This people-focused leadership style is crucial to hospitality because we all need people to work for us. The future generation will be more discerning about who they want to work for. Money isn’t a driver. They want to work for people who have their best interests at heart.
I would especially like to highlight Sally Beck and Liz McGivern. Eight Years ago I approached them about whether I should start my own business and they were both more than encouraging. Liz gave me a huge boost in confidence and Sally gave us the first apprentices to work with. This moment was everything to me and will live with me forever. Umbrella would not be here without this trust from both these incredible human beings.
Why is hospitality such an important sector for the UK?
For a start, it is the UK’s third largest sector and, according to the Financial Times, this was about to increase. As such, it represents a huge proportion of our GDP and makes vital tax contributions to the wider economy.
But it’s not just about the financials. Hospitality provides an incredible array of career opportunities and has shown itself time again to be resilient in uncertain times and how quickly it bounces back.
There is such amazing spirit in the sector. Hospitality is a vital ingredient to everyday life now – we all eat, drink and socialise more than ever before. Despite what is going on right now, I expect this won’t change in the long term.
What are the key issues the sector faces in 2020?
First and foremost, it’s obviously Covid-19. This is a huge nightmare for a sector that was already hit with immigration rules – an enormous challenge in their own right – and it will eventually cost the sector dearly. The perception of the sector has unfortunately been worsening since the start of the pandemic.
What does the future hold for Umbrella Training?
We are undoubtedly experiencing unprecedented challenges at the moment, but this is a time for innovation and creation.
Recently, all our provision has gone online to ensure all apprentices have been engaged and keep learning ahead of the re-opening of the sector.
Infection and control have become key training points for apprentices, so we have developed a new Clinical Cleanliness Covid 19 suite of modules in line with this demand.
We have also developed new delivery models that align with adult learning styles – university-style delivery that includes an online presence.
Virtual experiences is now key for all learners and we are focussed on Generation Alpha planning as part of our gamification and virtual reality strategy.
In addition, we have developed a Covid-19 safety standard toolkit in partnership with UK Housekeepers Association and other key organisations, while expanding our Apprentice Exchange system for redundant apprentices.
We have also signed up to the largest careers stand for Hospitality at Skills London 2021 where we will re-open our virtual hotel along with other interactive activities to promote the brilliant opportunities as part of our ‘Hospitality World’ staging.
It is important that we continue aiding employers to bring their recruitment, retention and people strategies to new levels with meaningful programmes that have a true ROI. Employers need to feel the impact of a training provider in a positive way because just doing the programme will not produce the results that a business needs.
We would like to thank Adele for her time and insights. If you would like to take a closer look at the business Adele founded here is Umbrella Training’s website.
Adele Oxberry Umbrella Training