An often-asked question in the hospitality industry is whether graduates of hospitality education programmes possess the competencies that the hospitality industry believes students should possess. In an industry as dynamic and diverse as hospitality, where new trends and changes are driving the sector, educators must tailor their programmes to ensure they are designed to equip graduates with the relevant knowledge that will help them advance their careers.
It is therefore, quite important that the curriculum being followed at professional hospitality educational institutes are revised at regular intervals and necessary modifications are carried out based on the changes that have come in the industry. For this to occur and be meaningful, regular interaction is essential between the industry and the educational institutes. However, whether this happens or not is to be established.
Not so long ago, a study was undertaken in Honk Kong to:
1.Identify perceptions and expectations among practitioners, educators and students in tourism and hospitality education.
2.Provide insight so schools can develop a suitable curriculum to train students to become qualified professionals.
The interviewees for the study included students studying hospitality at the HK institution of Vocational Education, HK Polytechnic University and Chinese University HK. The selected employers had been working in the hotel and tourism field for over 5 years and the educators were programme leaders of Higher Diploma, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in hospitality operations.
The key findings that emerged from the study;
- The employers demanded graduates with generic skills; academic education does not guarantee employment.
- Some employers did not prefer to recruit graduates from universities where the students study only theory and concepts of hospitality.
- Work experience is slightly more important to the students than to employers. The findings imply that work experience is not a ‘must have’, because employers do not expect new employees to know exactly how to accurately perform their tasks.
- Educators and employers blamed each other for the current situation.
- Educators commented that they had tried their best to come up with a well-rounded programme for their students but their workload could be very heavy so it was difficult to prepare teaching materials and also keep up with the changes in the industry.
- At the same time, employers complained that graduates were not well-prepared and they lacked the required knowledge, skills and attitude.
The findings indicated that there were gaps as well as differences between professionals and educators. It also suggests that lines of communication are not open between educators and professionals. Faculty internships, industry forums, and interaction with graduating students are suggested means to opening communication.
Several fundamental changes involving new services that significantly influenced customer behaviour has evolved during the past decade or two.
OTA’s for instance have changed the manner in which we book our trips with as much as 33 percent of leisure and 50 percent of business travellers booking their trips online. Airbnb has become a real competition for hotels. Mobile apps now serve as a self service option for hotel guests in terms of check-in / out, making dinner reservations, ordering in-room dining, online payments and a host of other possibilities.
Technology will only continue to influence the hospitality industry, which means digital skills must be integrated into the curriculum of hospitality programmes in addition to the practical, soft skills and business management acumen.
Learning techniques must focus on how to engage the millennial generation and create interest, both in the classroom and beyond the scope of the syllabus via learning online –sometimes pushing them towards learning without knowing they are learning.
Educators who roll out hospitality programmes need to focus on hiring staff that are currently working in the industry or have recently left a position in the industry. Members of the alumni (for those that have one) too can be considered. It is not uncommon to find that most of the lecturers in certain schools have been out of the industry for so many years, if not decades, and totally out of touch with current industry trends and standards
Higher education institutions need to reinvent themselves to stay relevant and prepare their students for today’s industry.
(The writer is the Editor of Hospitality Sri Lanka, Consultant, Trainer, Ex-Hotelier)