Marriott Launches LevelUp Program in Budapest: ‘Be Curious, Connected and Courageous.’


Talking Points: from left, Francisca Martinez, chief human resources officer, EMEA, and Pankaj Birla, area vice president for DACH and Eastern Europe, both of Marriott International, Cameron McNeillie, general manager of the Dorothea Hotel, Ferenc Kovács, executive sous chef at the Budapest Marriott, and roundtable moderator Zsuzsanna Kiss, HR director for the Marriott Budapest Cluster.

Some 25 young adults from all over Hungary applied for the first-ever staging of Marriott International’s LevelUp program, a three-month training scheme that aims to educate participants about the ins and outs of the culinary side of the hospitality industry.

Nine students have been accepted to participate in the pilot program, studying next to the head chefs of four of the various Marriott-branded hotels in Budapest.

“Youth is the DNA of the Marriott,” says Pankaj Birla, Marriott International’s area vice president for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and Eastern Europe, at Marriott’s LevelUp press event on April 18.

Birla and Francisca Martinez, chief human resources officer, EMEA, emphasized Marriott’s devotion to youth development, one of the main reasons behind the launch of the LevelUp program. They noted that, after the overall decline in the hospitality industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marriott wanted to “partner with the youth” to preserve the “resiliency of the hospitality industry.”

Birla highlighted Marriott’s commitment to finding and managing new talent and providing the younger generation with more opportunities in hospitality. At the same time, Martinez said she believed that everyone has the opportunity to lead in any position within the industry.

“Be curious, connected and courageous,” she advised the students.

The idea for the LevelUp project has been in the works for the past two years. The students will spend one day a week in the kitchen of the hotel they have been assigned to, focusing on attaining the practical knowledge needed for a culinary career. The rest of their time will be spent in the classroom, studying the theoretical aspects of gastronomy and hospitality.

Four luxury hotels across Budapest are welcoming the students taking part in the training program: Dorothea Hotel, The Ritz Carlton, Budapest Marriott Hotel, and W Budapest. The hotel’s head chefs will mentor the students assigned to their location.

Why Hungary?

With a focus on youth development and investment in the younger generation of workers, Birla explained that one of the reasons he had Hungary in mind for the location of the debut of Marriott’s LevelUp program was the amount of potential he saw in Hungarian youth.

“I come to Budapest, and I see a lot of young people in the streets,” he shared, adding, “Programs like [LevelUp] make the industry.”

Birla explained that the amount of hospitality platforms Marriott offers in Budapest also contributed to the decision.

“Marriott has nine hotels in Budapest, three in the pipeline. There are a lot of places to choose from for beginners in the field,” he says.

Although the program’s launch has only just happened, the long-term goals within Hungary and the Central and Eastern European region have already been determined. Martinez and Birla agree that the main focus is showcasing and providing opportunities within the hospitality industry to the new generation of leaders.

Martinez added that the LevelUp program hopes to act as a “career investment” for the students involved. Although they will inevitably center their training around the culinary aspect of hotel operations, they will also learn about general management within hospitality.

According to Martinez and Birla, the transferable skills the students will acquire will apply in many branches of the industry. Marriott says it also plans to run the program across various different hospitality departments, with varying lengths of training time, but there are no immediate plans to extend it beyond Hungary.

Localization Partners

When it finally came time to implement the LevelUp program in Budapest, Marriott International partnered with two Hungarian organizations to help localize the project.

Those partners are the Budapest Complex Vocational Training Center (BKSzC), an organization focusing on talent management and specialty education for students, and Civil Impact, which promotes collaboration between various sectors and provides partnership opportunities for businesses.

Civil Impact assisted in getting the LevelUp program well-known across Hungary and with the students’ application and selection process.

László Kozma, deputy director general of BKSzC, shared that its main priority through its sponsorship of the LevelUp program is the “replenishment of staff within the hospitality industry,” which otherwise might prove to be a “big challenge.”

According to Gyöngyvér Kiss, managing director at Civil Impact, its main point of concentration is the career opportunities of Gen-Z workers and the integration of sectors for future projects.

Marriott International also runs a management training program similar to LevelUp in more than 50 countries worldwide. The Voyage Program focuses on entry-level leadership and management training for young adults. Participants of this program immerse themselves in management tasks and departmental responsibilities, experiencing the world of hospitality through a year-long training program in any hospitality field they choose.

Representatives of Marriott International stated that, like LevelUp, Voyage is also an investment into the next generation of leaders and managers in the hospitality industry.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 6, 2024.

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