SEG: Teaching Swiss Hospitality

For over 30 years, the Swiss Education Group has trained thousands of students from around the world in the art of hospitality.

The hard work of hundreds of students studying at the elite Swiss Education Group (SEG) culminates every October and March when they have to impress recruiters from some of the top hospitality institutions.

At the Twelfth International Recruitment Forum, held in Montreux on the north east shore of Lake Geneva in October, graduates looking for jobs and undergraduates looking to complete mandatory internships lined up to visit booths set up by more than 198 recruiters from 72 different hospitality companies.

From hotels to airlines, cruise line companies to recruitment agencies, recruiters representing high-end names like the Four Seasons, Shangri-La, Starwood, Hyatt, and Kempinski, travelled from around the globe to take part in the annual extravaganza. More than 12 general managers, 44 directors of human resources, seven CEOs, and five corporate chefs presented their businesses and interviewed students around the clock to handpick new staff and interns and help them jump start their careers.

Each year, the SEG, a network of hospitality institutions that has been in business for more than three decades, studiously prepares for this event in a manner than can only be called Swiss. Each event throughout the two-day forum is held precisely on time, while students of culinary arts boastfully showcase their gastronomic and service expertise.

“The first question we always get is why Switzerland and why hospitality?” Florent Rondez, SEG’s CEO, said. “The first reason is that the first school in the world that teaches young people hospitality was established in Switzerland more than 120 years ago. I graduated from that same school.”

Although its core business is hospitality management, SEG runs five different programs for students to choose from; César Ritz Colleges which specializes in hospitality, tourism, and entrepreneurship; the Culinary Arts Academy; and Hotel Institute Montreux (HIM) that provides hospitality management and corporate business administration. The remaining two programs are School of Hotel Management (IHTTI) and the Swiss Hotel Management School (S.H.M.S), which teaches students the traditions of Swiss hoteliers through a Hotel and Events Management Program, in an authentic Swiss environment.

Based on each student’s future plans and aspirations, the school advises and guides them to the specialization that suits them best. “Education in Switzerland is the balance between very strong academic programs, mixed with practical knowledge,” stressed Rondez.

Jordanian Students

Today SEG has more than 600 employees, educating up to 5,000 students a year from more than 120 countries. With a vision to promote its education around the world, the SEG has offices in many countries, including Singapore, Brazil, Canada, five in China and Hong Kong where 20 percent of its students come from, and one in our region.

Siwar Kasrawi is one of the Jordanian students who will soon graduate from the SEG’s César Ritz College. Like the rest of her colleagues, Kasrawi was running from booth to booth meeting with potential recruiters. “I would love to work for a couple of years in a hotel, moving between different departments,” said Kasrawi. “Then one day I would like to open my own events management business.”

Throughout the three years she spent working for her bachelor’s degree, Kasrawi gained valuable experience; she carried out her first internship in Geneva, then a second in Dubai’s Ritz Carlton. “I wore many hats: from guest relations to front desk, and I gained a lot of experience and saw the difference between dealing with people in Europe and my own culture,” she said.

Like Kasrawi, Omar Quraan is another Jordanian graduate who chose to study hospitality in Switzerland. He previously studied Culinary Arts in Jordan and decided afterwards to continue his studies in Hospitality Management in Switzerland.

His next move is to travel to Canada to look for management training jobs. “I’ve always wanted to do hospitality to gain the experience of travelling and working with different people from different cultures,” he said. “Having a degree from the SEG opens doors everywhere.”

According to Rondez, an increasing number of SEG students are coming from the Middle East. But although it’s a growing market, it’s also a market where they need to put in more effort. “It takes time to build a brand name so people can recognize us as quality education and to prove to the locals in the Middle East that this is a great industry. This is an industry where you can grow and build a great career,” he explained.

Transferable Skills

Studying hospitality doesn’t necessarily mean a graduate will end up working in a hotel or a restaurant. Graduates can work in human resources, marketing, finance, tourism, consultancy, in addition to many other opportunities.

Each student graduates with a wide set of skills, but they also learn a great deal outside the classroom because they live on a campus with peers from different nationalities and different backgrounds. Students are also taught in English, but they will have to learn French or German, depending on the area where their campus is located and the location of their internship in Switzerland.

But what makes the SEG different is its management which includes a number of people who are passionate about the hospitality industry. “My family has a restaurant. My whole life is about this industry. It’s a passion. You can only train the best people if you are passionate about what you do,” stressed Rondez. “Do we do it better than the others? I’m inclined to say yes because we listen. We are very humble, the company has been around for many years but we are happy to get advice from the industry. We don’t pretend to know it all.”

This year, the SEG introduced an iPad education revolution whereby all students are now taught on a one to one tablet in the spirit of keeping up with the young generation of today.

The schools can offer young high school graduates with a three-year bachelor’s degree. They also provide a master’s degree, as well as a one-year diploma program that prepares graduates for hospitality work around the world.

A bachelor’s degree may cost around $125,000, which includes tuition, room, meals, and health insurance. “What’s the return on investment? Graduates can fast track their careers and reach top positions quicker than if you would spend a bit less and train them in your country,” said Rondez.

Partnerships with the UK’s University of Derby, the US’s Northwood University and Washington State University ensure a seamless transfer for students. But one of the most important partnerships is with the hospitality industry which enhances and maintains the relevance of the schools’ programs, to ensure that they meet the global market’s needs.

The SEG teaches the students to communicate with the industry, said Jason Smith, managing director of Yummy Jobs, an international recruitment company that also helps recruit people for Disney. “When we meet the students, we know they have the skills on paper and they certainly have the Swiss hospitality experience, but it’s engaging with them and understanding their personality and how it’s going to match the brand [that matters],” said Smith.

In this October’s forum, more than 3,000 interviews took place, resulting in an average of two offers per student. “Of course the recruitment forum is about getting jobs…but it’s also a networking environment where twice a year students learn how to sell themselves and learn about the different companies,” said Rondez. “I think hospitality is a tough industry but it prepares you to fight and to be competitive in today’s world. And our students have a C.V. that outshines many others, but they also have something extra: They have the passion.”