Across all industries in the global workplace you can easily find ‘fast track courses’ which are readily available for those wishing to change their career path and make a better life for themselves. Some of these courses will ‘guarantee’ instant success in terms of finding a suitable position – which is obviously irresponsible. The building trade being one of the main culprits in terms of making false promises and taking a student’s hard earned cash; which is why these kinds of training schools are frowned upon by time-served apprentices in the trade.
But what about the Private Service industry? Household Management Academies and Butler Schools have seen a surge of applicants in recent years who wish to become certified household managers or butlers, and move away from their existing vocation or simply add another string to their proverbial bow. Estate & Manor Magazine were fortunate enough to chat with the Toronto based, Charles MacPherson Academy and delve into the finer details regarding the school; which has been providing luxury solutions to residences and the hospitality industry for almost 20 years throughout North America, and of course the students opting to enroll on the gruelling 4-week programme.
We wanted to find out the main factors behind a person’s decision to enrol on a Household Manager/Butler course at the academy, we feared this may seem like a straight-forward question, but, both Charles and Vice President, Scott Munden did not agree that the question was a simple matter.
“People come to us for diverse reasons. We receive applications for example from individuals who have worked in the service/hospitality industry for many years and are seeking to escape a glass ceiling that limits opportunity and earning potential, to the opposite spectrum of individuals who have harboured a fascination with the field of private service (a fascination piqued by shows like Downton Abbey perhaps), and everything in between including an Engineer from Chrysler and a Public Relations professional from Silicon Valley.
Often the conversation about attending our Academy extends to over one year. We think applicants like the fact that we are candid with them and that we openly support their due diligence as they speak with other schools. In the end, we think they appreciate our professionalism, a curriculum that was developed in partnership with adult education experts, our accreditation with a government body and the fact that we have invested in the tools and materials of the trade. Students who are looking to receive an education in a beautiful mansion usually do not come to us. On the other hand, students who are looking for a high degree of professionalism from the school and its instructors often will come to us.”
Enrolling on any course as a beginner will naturally come with certain difficulties and this is no different in the demanding realm of private service. With such a meticulous focus on the service mind-set and a great deal to learn in 4 weeks we wondered how enrollees coped and if students ever underestimated the intensity of the courses?
“Some students adapt like fish to water. With others, it is a struggle to be honest. Thankfully, the latter group is in the minority. The successful students will understand the meaning and responsibilities associated with having a ‘service mentality.’ It is not something that can be learned over 4 weeks. We admit this, but from Day 1 of our program Instructors point out to students the myriad of opportunities for service. They teach them skills that will help them anticipate the service requirements of employers. None of this happens overnight, but for those who have not worked in the service industry, it is a starting point.
As for the demands of private service, we always let applicants know what it means to work in the field so they know in advance (although a few conveniently forget) that being a House Manager is not a 9 to 5 job. After all, homes don’t operate on a 9 to 5 basis so flexibility and adaptability are key. We tell applicants who are looking for something 9 to 5 that private service is most likely not the career path for them.
We always felt that the intensity of the program (and it is intense at 6 days a week, with daily tests, homework and reading assignments) that it was not necessary to emphasize the program’s rigorousness. Perhaps naively, we felt that when students are investing a significant sum of money, that they are coming to our school to be disciplined and work diligently. Unfortunately, we have discovered that this is not always the case. We have had instances of students complaining about reading assignments for example. As a result, we have doubled down on making sure that every applicant knows the level of commitment that will be required of him or her to succeed”.
Learning is always a two-way street and there is a fairly simple success formula – if you put the effort in and show aptitude, you will get the reward; which in this case would be graduation from the academy. So what personal and professional qualities should an enrollee ‘bring with them’ prior to starting a household management/butler course?
“We are forever discussing ‘transferable skills’ with applicants, students, clients and instructors. These are the skills that are developed through previous employment as well as life experience, hobbies and general interests. Sometimes they can be unusual things. For example, we were in the process of placing a graduate with a family who was planning a kitchen garden for the first time. What the family did not know about the applicant was that he grew up on a farm and was well schooled in gardening. At first blush, it was not the sort of skill one would put on a resumé targeted towards the private service, but it did prove to be a ‘selling feature’ for the applicant. He ended up with the job and after three years has moved from a mid-level position to top dog.
Curiosity and a willingness to learn are two very critical attributes. These two items cannot be over-emphasized. In addition to these, we would add service skills, experience interacting with high net worth individuals, administrative skills, people skills, personal presentation skills, the ability to write business correspondence, technical know-how and management of vendors. While curiosity and a drive to learn are critical, the latter list is considered to be assets that assist us in placing students once they graduate”.
And, what about specific practical subject areas of courses which causes a degree of hardship amongst students? How do the training staff at Charles MacPherson Academy assist students with overcoming difficulties?
“We feel we do a pretty effective job at teaching most of our subjects. While developing our curriculum we had to know exactly what was going to be taught, how it was going to be taught and precisely what knowledge and skills students would have after completing the class. We also track student progress through daily tests, which help us to identify and assist students who might be struggling in a timely manner.
The biggest challenge for students and the school is in the development of a service mentality. If you have not worked in service situations, it is not a skill that comes easy to students. It is also a soft skill, which most schools are ineffective at teaching. In our Academy, the service mentality is a theme as of Day One. Students are taught, for example, how to anticipate service requirements by paying attention to household patterns and the habits of the employer. It sounds obvious, but most people would be shocked by how little attention most of us pay to those sort of indicators”.
Super rich entrepreneurs and affluent families both West and East of the planet desire huge estates and homes which require the monumental task of being tended to on a daily basis. This would be impossible without knowledgeable and professional management staff. With such responsibility comes a wage to match; with salaries reaching a ceiling of around £150,000 per annum. But, what about the current job market for newly-qualified household managers and Butlers? Do recently qualified graduates stand a chance of landing a private service position in an industry where experience is seemingly king?
“All labour markets, broken down by country and region, are different with varying levels of opportunity. It takes effort, gut-level belief in the candidate and good communication skills for the placement agent to convince an employer to consider a recent Household Management graduate. This is the simple truth of the matter. A lot of other schools will do their best to paint a rosy job opportunity picture. We would rather not push our students to live in a world of false expectations. It is dishonest and runs counter to the interests of the student as well as the reputation of the school.
Having said the above, there are job opportunities. We know this because we do it all the time. In order to be successful, schools, through their placement arms, must aggressively market their graduates and truly understand what each individual can do to improve the life of an employer. The strategy must be tailored to the individual graduate. A cookie cutter solution will inevitably fail. It is also important for schools to ‘put out the word’ in support of their graduates. For example, we do this through a marketing piece we call a Graduate Book that is sent out to agencies across North America, select agencies in Europe as well as clients and trusted vendors who are often asked by homeowners if they are aware of any good House Managers on the labour market.
The final ingredient in the special sauce for success in the job market is the active participation of the graduates themselves. If a graduate chooses to sit back and let others do the work, their strategy will fail. The students who are working their network – even prior to attending our Academy – are the ones who invariably succeed. They are usually the ones who have creative plans to open doors. A basic rule of thumb is that Graduates must look upon placement agents as their partners and not as hired hands”.
Characteristics: Mature Vs. Tech-Savvy
Taking training schools out of the equation, if you ask the average layperson what a Household Manager or a Butler looks like you would probably be given the description of a mature gentleman fitting the description of some well-known TV/Cinema heroes such as the graceful but ever pompous Mr Carson from the much-loved TV series, Downton Abbey or even Bruce Wayne’s very own Butler, Alfred. Is there any indication of the demand for young, tech-savvy individuals to grace affluent homes and estates?
“Household Management is one of the few professions that values maturity over youthful energy. Life experience is a definite asset. So what we see is a demand for House Managers within the 30 to 55-age bracket. There are possibilities for those outside of that demographic field, but the preponderance of opportunity favours the seasoned individual.
We also think that being tech-savvy is somewhat of an overrated skill. After all, only a foolish employer would want their House Manager to program a Crestron® or AMX® system. For one thing it is a waste of the House Manager’s time and for another, it is a task best reserved for the experts.
Of course, this is not to say that it is unimportant to be tech-savvy. A House Manager who knows the jargon of a vendor and knows the right questions to ask is a useful employee. Further, we cannot overemphasize the importance of having some degree of proficiency in software programs like Word and Excel.
In the end it comes down to those two key attributes that were previously mentioned: curiosity and a willingness to learn. If a House Manager has both those qualities they can learn almost anything”.
To find out more about the Charles MacPherson academy and what it can offer those wishing to become a qualified Household Manager or Butler, visit the academy website: www.charlesmacpherson.com/