Marlowe Bennett is the CEO of a best practice hospitality employment business with a difference, BENCHMARQUE. He tells Niki Waldegrave how he plans to b...
BENCHMARQUE isn’t your typical recruitment agency, and its CEO Marlowe Bennett is a man on a mission to attract more than 100,000 personalities into hospitality and events jobs over the next three years.
The 10-year-old business not only matches a passionate workforce with its clients – which range from five-star hotels to publicly listed companies across Asia Pacific – it also manages the employment needs of a struggling industry, turning positions into positive careers, steadily steering workers to the top.
“We have very high expectations,” says Bennett, “and we foster and deliver truly great service to our employees and candidates. Much the same as these same people are expected to deliver to guests and customers when they work on the front line.
“Our environment is very much ‘treat others like you would like to be treated yourself’, and we focus on positive employment experiences to candidates, showcasing the benefits of what their careers may be like, and the lifestyle they can achieve.”
It’s a modern approach to bridging the gap and providing the timeline and unique journey between entry level positions, to more senior positions, ensuring workers enjoy an interesting and achievable work-life balance.
“Everyone has a unique story,” Bennett adds. “There are people in the industry that started out washing dishes and now own their own venues, earning well over six figures. It’s important to showcase these stories. It isn’t always easy, it’s a long road – however, it is possible.”
Bennett made his first foray into hospitality 23 years ago after his own positive employment experience in guest services at the swanky Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Double Bay. Since then, he’s worked in some of Sydney’s top establishments.
He founded BENCHMARQUE in 2006 after spending four years as Assistant Operations Manager, Functions and Events at The Establishment Hotel in Sydney, which is part of the Justin Hemmes-owned Merivale group.
“I had a really positive employment experience there and realised that with the casual staffing model, I could work with a business like this, and provide a more unique and tailored service,” he claims.
“It all comes back to providing the best service in employment services to our candidates and our partners.”
BENCHMARQUE currently turns over $9mn annually and has 15 full-time staff, mainly People & Culture Administrators, Coordinators and Management, scheduling approximately 40,000 shifts annually for the 400+ front of house hospitality workers through its workforce management and labour hire solutions.
“We're fortunate to have a passionate, engaged team,” he admits, “and it starts with hiring the right people who have worked in the positions we service. My mantra for anyone employed internally, is that they must come from an operations background in hospitality.
“They must be able to walk the walk, talk the talk, and have empathy for our front-line staff, candidates and clients to understand intimately what their daily challenges are.”
He says one of the industry’s major challenges is a forecasted critical skills shortage of 123,000 people by 2020.
“The restaurant industry is going through significant growth,” he adds. “Every restaurant in Sydney is desperate for staff at all levels, especially skilled waiting staff, beverage staff, chefs.”
Believing transferable skills are key, BENCHMARQUE conducts four-hour interviews with entry level recruits, and regularly provides between two to four hours of free training to assess their skills and give tips.
BENCHMARQUE partners with tertiary colleges such as Kenvale Hospitality and culinary and events schools to talk to graduates about the benefits and real-life examples of successful and achievable careers in hospitality. It also partnered with the Youth Jobs PaTH programme in September, which combines work experiences with a work trial, training and wage subsidies.
“The program aims to provide the longer-term unemployed youth with job opportunities,” adds Bennett. “We’re very focused on inspiring them at a young age, and giving them the opportunity to explore back office administration while allowing them the exposure to see what powers the industry.”
Bennett’s mission is to inspire 100,000 people to commence and grow their professional careers by 2020 via a new, secret initiative he’s working on, transitioning the workers into the industry with the correct skillset.
“We want to be the first thought when it comes to providing effective and proven solutions to the industry skill shortage by focusing on the long term, not just the short term,” he explains.
“We’re on target to lead the market in this space and provide tangible and realistic solutions to the engagement and skills challenges we all are experiencing, and we aim to nurture these candidates throughout their career by providing positive experiences. By doing this, we begin to create a large network of young professional hospitality enthusiasts to meet the ongoing demands across the country over the next decade.”
Two years ago, Bennett discovered engagement was quite low across the industry, so set about researching millennials and what drives them.
“They crave mentorship,” he reveals. “They want to look up to someone, be inspired by something, be a part of something positive and to add value.”
Ultimately, what BENCHMARQUE aims to do is provide staff with a positive emotional connection to employment in hospitality.
“Our brand values are to inspire others, grow through learning and lead by example, and if we're not providing this to everyone that we work with, we won’t be successful in our mission.
“Success, to me, isn’t measured in how much money you have – it’s coming full circle and appreciating you’re making a difference, influencing and inspiring other people to do great things for themselves.”