Christophe Coulomme joined Vatel Bordeaux in 1997 and he is today the Director of Corporate Relations department. In 21 years, he handled 2500 student placements spread over 5 continents (50 countries) for durations ranging between 15 days and 6 months.
Christophe Coulomme, how did your collaboration with Vatel Bordeaux start?
After six years in a SME in South Africa (from 1990 to 1996) and one year trying to cope again with the city where I followed my studies, Bordeaux, I applied to VATEL in 1997. Back then, there were only 53 students and we were only 2 employees in the administrative department, myself and Nathalie Gaucher-Piola.
Today 706 students are on campus. Our Business Relations department have 3 members: Charline Monthel (Head of placements), Sonia Renault (Professional practice lead) and myself.
What are the main missions of the departement?
Our missions are:
- Ensure there is consistency between the student’ aspirations and the industry’s needs.
- Verify that the tasks detailed in the advertised job can be fulfilled by the student
- Ensure that the student has the necessary skills to perform the tasks required by the employer.
- Be available 24/7 in case any problem arises given that our students are on duty all year long, in all parts of the world.
- Inform students, support them and advise them on choices relevant to their projects.
- Strive continuously to expand our network quantitatively and qualitatively.
Charline Monthel and Sonia Renault also pursue the same objectives. Charline should assist 450 students per year with finding internships in France and abroad. Sonia’s task is to find a 15-day internship for 50 to 190 students in a span of one week. She has a network of 50 companies for the placement periods. At Vatel, students carry out their hands-on assignments during an alternate 15-day cycle: 15 days of practice and 15 days of management courses.
Students get to put into practice what they learn, alongside executives and professionals
How do you make sure that industry’s needs and student profiles are compatible?
There is a lot of preparation involved prior to the internship period. The strong relations we have built with many companies allow us to better anticipate their expectations. But the profile of our partners changed since 1997.
At 75%, they are hotel chains. Students aspire more and more to get the perfect internship: a luxury 5* hotel in an idyllic setting with rewarding tasks and an allowance.
Our role is to give them realistic perspectives. If a 1st year Bachelor student expresses his wish to carry out his 4-month internship in an event management agency, we decline his request.
More advanced skills are required to work in event management given the challenges it entails. Only a 3rd year Bachelor or an MBA student is up to the task.
How do you convince enterprise to “recruit” the Vatel Bordeaux student the following year?
We regularly remind our Vatéliens (future graduates) of the rules of conduct and the performance criteria that are expected by our partners. We are in constant contact with the employer and our students during the internship and this follow-up always proves essential to our collaboration. Therefore, we receive more than 1000 internship offers which is the equivalent of 2 offers per student. This proves they are satisfied with the performance of their interns.
You mentioned the necessity of dealing with emergencies during the internships…
We need to be always alert and come up with instant solutions when a problem occurs. For example, when Hurricane Irma hit Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy islands, six of our students were there. All the school got involved to find their whereabouts and reassure their parents and help them get back home safely.
Based on which criteria do you choose the partner companies?
Reactivity and rapidity in the communication process is definitely more important than the prestige or the standing of the company. This is how we get to be more efficient when it comes to solving timing issues. We don’t have specific privileged partners. The renewal of a contract is never a given. It is up to both the students and the partner companies to adapt to the context and to preserve their respective image.
What is next for the Corporate Relations department?
We are aiming at broadening the possibilities of placements for our students through organising events and direct encounters with prominent contacts in the hotel and restaurant sector. Our second campus located next to an upcoming hotel cluster will help us achieve this goal. For example, this week we hosted the Hyatt group for the 3rd consecutive time for a conference followed by a series of interviews with our students.
Last but not least, we are setting up a platform dedicated to the organisation of internships, that will also help advertise job opportunities for our graduates.
After 20 years of strong relations with the hotel and restaurant players, Christophe Coulomme & his team managed to provide a solid grounding for enhancing the employability of Vatéliens.