The tourism industry in Sri Lanka will need around 130,000 newly trained personnel by 2020 to serve the four million (2016 - 2.5 million) tourists Sri Lanka hopes to attract in 2020.
According to a study conducted by the National Human Resources Development Council (NHRDC) of Sri Lanka, the tourism industry, based on arrival forecasts, will add around 350,000 direct and indirect new jobs by 2020. By 2018, 11,645 new rooms would be added to the existing room inventory. The sector, according to the report, would need 23,360 trained employees before the end of 2017 since these hotels will be in operation by 2018. The total requirement of managerial employees are 2,035, supervisory at 3,135 and ‘other’ categories around 18,190.
The hotel school that produces most of our graduates and trainees does not have the capacity to deliver the numbers and the talent required for the industry. The hotel school capacity in 2016 has been increased to 13000 from 8000. The industry however needs to have 130.000 trained people by 2020. The large hotel groups would largely manage their manpower requirements through internally generated training programmes and therefore the government should support them with the required infrastructure.
The other problem the industry has is that the tourism industry is still not an attractive proposition to school leavers and affordability and easy access to acquire a hospitality qualification is an issue for most students. It is worthwhile noting in addition to the hotel school, the state- managed Vocational Training Authority and other training institutions are currently conducting various National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) and non NVQ courses/programmes in the fields of travel, tourism and hotel and hospitality management.
Out of the 141 courses offered 118 are not NVQ certified. Most of these schools/organisations are also located in the Western Province and therefore an issue for rural students to access. Therefore, it is a must that we develop a strategy a) to increase the intake for the existing training schools by marketing the industry to young people b) establish new hotel schools in selected regions to attract young students into the industry and c) upgrade the quality of training and learning with the support of the private sector and via affiliations.
What are our options?
The talent requirement for the industry is acute at entry and mid levels. Therefore, there is very little time to experiment. The hotel school programmes are subsidized and therefore caters to the average Sri Lankan because the programmes are affordable. However, those programmes need to be scaled up in line with what the market is demanding. Rebranding of the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management (SLITHM) through Accreditation with Hauge, Cornell, Salzburg, Luzane, Hong Kong – Polytechnic, etc., is in progress. The school is constrained due to its internal regulations, which prevents them from attracting the best available talent to run the school.
The hotel school board has industry representatives and therefore needs to be empowered to deliver the required talent at all levels by hiring better quality staff. The school after years of neglect and poor in-house talent is currently in the process of upgrading the curriculum in consultation with the private sector and also looking for partners to raise the profile of the school. The option of involving the private sector fully or handing over the school to private management needs to evolve.
A public-private partnership (PPP) is certainly a must for a high-end school with an institution like for e.g. Glion Institute of Higher Education or Les Roches International School of Hotel Management Marbella and for advanced learning Erasmus University Rotterdam. But these colleges will cater only to a limited group who can afford to pay top-end fees. However, many top-end schools do not want to set up shop in Sri Lanka because the market is small and those who can afford still prefer to do it oversees. Therefore, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) model of franchising programmes in partnership with the private sector is a quick way to build our industry bench strength.
However, two additional issues that need to be addressed immediately are a) upgrade and utilize the full capacity of the existing training institutions (annual training capacity 8599, student present 2162) b) establish two or three hotel schools with the support of top private operators in two selected regions c) Conduct district wise awareness programmes in selected towns concurrently among the youth to attract them into the industry.
In the final analysis, the industry certainly needs a 2020 talent strategy developed in consultation with industry and human resource (HR) specialists who understand the end game and also an institution responsible for the implementation of the strategy.
(Dinesh Weerakkody is Chairman of the National Human Resource Development Council of Sri Lanka)