The hotel industry is an accommodating choice for skilled workers, writes Stephen Lacey.
It's a Sunday evening and instead of heading out to a cafe or catching up with friends, 25-year-old Stela Popovic is on her computer, looking at hotel openings, admiring beautiful lobbies and guest rooms, and conversing on the Hotel Chatter blog.
"I'm a hotel junkie," she says. "I have been ever since I was a child when I saw a movie called Casino, and there was Robert De Niro strolling through a lobby, speaking the language of the guests and greeting everyone. I thought, 'That's exactly what I want to do one day."'
Popovic never gave up on her dream. After high school, she enrolled at the International College of Management in Manly. From there she transferred to the Cesar Ritz college, in Switzerland. "It was an incredible experience," she says. "There were 42 nationalities going to that school, so I met people from all over the world and got my BA in hotel management."
On returning to Sydney she was employed at the Establishment Hotel, a 31-room boutique hotel. Like many starting out she scored the graveyard shift, working as the night auditor and moving up to night manager. "I did that for about six months and had no social life whatsoever, but I learnt quite a lot," she says.
"A small hotel means you're very hands-on and you get to learn everything from updating rates online to delivering room service."
Next came an 18-month stint as concierge at the 171-room Darling Hotel, after which Popovic was headhunted by the new QT Sydney. "I'd always been interested in boutique designer hotels, so I couldn't say no," she says.
She became experience manager, or concierge, for the uber-hip 200-room hotel, a job she loves.
"My original dream was to work in a 3000-room hotel, and then you realise there's no passion and there's no satisfaction from service in those large-scale places - you only get that in hotels like the QT, where you talk with everyone who walks through the door," she says.
A concierge is one of the most visible positions in a hotel, dealing with any requests a guest may have - restaurant recommendations to booking a massage.
On average, concierges in Sydney and Melbourne earn about $50,000 a year. The most experienced are members of Le Clefs d'Or, an exclusive international organisation for concierges.
There's probably never been a better time to look towards a career in a hotel, with an estimated 35,800 tourism vacancies throughout Australia and another 56,000 workers needed by 2015, according to the 2011 Australian Tourism Labour Force Report.
Another study found recruitment difficulties and skills deficiencies were the biggest problems when it came to landing a job in a hotel, with some employers rejecting nine out of 10 job applications because the applicants lacked even a basic diploma.
"We're entering a critical stage where demand is growing in all areas of hospitality, and we are finding it increasingly difficult to attract the right people," says David Seargeant, who is the group managing director at AHL, the owner of Rydges and QT hotels.
"Twenty years ago, Australia had a lot of new hotels being built, and many regarded a career in the industry as quite glamorous. The attraction seems to have diminished a little and yet the opportunities have never been greater."
Seargeant says Australia is lucky to have so many good schools that teach hotel management. So good, that they attract students from overseas.
"The problem is not the quality of the teaching or the institutions, the problem is getting the right people interested in having a hotel career in the first place," he says.
Most of the hotel schools in Australia offer a three-year bachelor of business in hospitality, or hotel management.
The Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School also offers a two-year master of international hotel management.
Study isn't cheap. For example, the bachelor of business in hotel management at Sydney Hotel School, part of Southern Cross University, costs more than $16,000 a year. However, eligible students can apply for FEE-HELP, Abstudy, Austudy or Youth Allowance.
Those seeking employment in the hotel industry have a wide range of jobs to choose from, including housekeeping, reception, marketing and public relations, sales, food and beverage, finance and management.
And remember what the aforementioned Robert De Niro once said: "My definition of a good hotel is a place I'd stay at."