Roundtable: The importance of education in hospitality

Hospitality professionals from across a range of roles in the industry share their insights on the importance of educational training before working in the real world

Operators, Training

Do you think it’s important for new entrants in the hospitality industry to have educational backing, i.e. a degree in a hospitality-focused subject? Why/why not?

Michael Newnham, Associate Dean, Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management: It is still possible to build a career in hospitality without a bachelor degree with the right personality attributes and work opportunities. Increasingly though, employers are being more selective and use a degree as an indication of competence: a degree signals to employers that students have learnt about and worked in the industry (through internships) and have the capability to contribute, learn and grow, often more rapidly than those without a degree. A Bachelor degree provides students with knowledge, skills and abilities in most aspects of hospitality operations, on which they can build when they start working fulltime. Graduates understand the inter-relationship and interdependencies between various functional areas. They also learn how to analyse and research workplace issues, solve problems, make decisions, and work in teams.

Sneha Rahul, Human Resources & Training Manager, Park Inn By Radisson Dubai Motor City: I started my career in the industry six years earlier, and within this period the profiles that we look for while hiring have undergone dynamic changes. As a recruiter, I always prefer to have candidates who are genuinely interested in the industry and not someone who may end up with us by chance. While recruiting, we not only look at candidates who can fill available positions, but also those who can grow with the company to become our future leaders. The succession planning starts from day one in the recruitment process. So we need candidates to know what they are looking forward to. A related degree helps candidates add a winning point to their profile. Candidates will have realistic expectations about the part that they may have to play in the team as most universities now focus on a minimum of six months experiential learning through internships, which makes it easier for them to adapt.

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Remmie de Graaf, General Manager, Hilton Garden Inn Ras Al Khaimah: I personally believe it is vital for new entrants into the hospitality industry to have some educational background in hospitality. Speaking from personal experience, I am a hotel school graduate too, and my studies at the Hotel Management College of Maastricht certainly provided me with a strong foundation to commence my career. Through my studies I have also managed to gain some international work experience. For instance, as part of my traineeship, I worked in Tianjin, China and Antwerp, Belgium. It was also in college that I started building my network within the hospitality industry. My time at a hotel management college indeed helped me secure a foothold in the industry.

Andrew Vieira, Director Of F&B, Steigenberger Hotel Business Bay: I definitely think it is important for newcomers in the current day, to have an educational background in the hospitality industry. The focus was more on hands-on experience at the time when I was a new entrant, but as time and technology have progressed, it has become important to have a solid backing of education and knowledge that you don’t get from operations alone.

Pamini Hemaprabha, Executive Housekeeper, Bahi Ajman Palace Hotel: It’s  important to have beginners come from hotel management institutes as it will give them a better idea of what they have studied and how far they can see themselves in the industry. Having said this, there are areas of concern for departments like housekeeping and other back-of-house areas where the contribution of hotel management graduates are minimum. Becoming a great hotelier isn’t solely dependent on the fact of having a hotel management degree, I believe it’s more personality and leadership skills that takes people forward in this industry. We have a great many examples of successful hoteliers who do not possess a hotel management degree and yet are successful. Hotel management is a course that needs to be promoted as a platform for younger generation to consider their career in this field.

How can we as an industry encourage the younger generation to join the hospitality industry?

Michael Newnham: Firstly, many commentators make too much of the difference between millennials and other generations. Millennials’ outlook on life and careers is certainly different. But the principles for managing and motivating this generation are no different to other generations. We all have mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs that are recognised through good leadership and HR practices. Emphasis should be placed on activities such as mentoring and coaching, rewarding managers who develop subordinates, creating clear career paths, fostering team cohesion, fast-tracking high potentials (identified through talent management processes), and so on.

Sneha Rahul: Youngsters today are very ambitious. They take pride in being associated with bigger names but don’t like to be one of the many. While they are ready to take challenges and attracted by the glamour that our industry showcases, they may not, however,  be patient on results. The core here is to connect with them as early as possible. It is not only important that you make opportunities to rapidly learn, grow and engage within the industry, but equally significant is to make sure that such activities reach a wider audience. Opening up the industry for organisational studies, internships and similar pre-employment activities is a good start. Creating a fun atmosphere is also important. Youngsters desire to be vibrant and creative at work and to enjoy the social life that employers can provide. Give them a platform to talk and regular feedback to keep them focused and make  them feel important. Work-life balance is crucial.

Remmie de Graaf: There is a misconception that the hospitality industry is just about operational functions such as accommodation services, F&B etc, but in actual sense it encompasses a larger picture. There are many ‘behind-the-scene’ functions that the general public fail to recognise such as finance, marketing, sales etc roles that are related to the business. The industry is multi-faceted and as industry players, we need to bring this aspect to light. At Hilton Garden Inn Ras Al Khaimah, one of the ways we are doing to promote the industry amongst the younger generation is by reaching out to schools and giving talks to students about career prospects in the hotel industry. We also invite students to come and visit our hotels, both front- and back-of-the-house, so they can see for themselves firsthand what a hotel is about. I am always intrigued by how interested students are about the back-of-the-house where all the real action takes place.

Furthermore, as an industry we don’t shout enough that the hospitality industry is a vibrant and entrepreneurial sector. The number of new food and service related concepts that are popping up are predominantly hospitality-related and this is something that resonates with the younger generation.

Andrew Vieira: The hospitality industry is currently one of the fastest growing industries worldwide, particularly in the Middle East. Due to its constant evolution, there is a lot of interest from the younger generation, as it offers them a chance to be creative not just in their culinary skills but all the other ancillary skills which have become necessary. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest give you ways to promote and showcase your work to a global stage. Newbies also have the advantage of a variety of internships and work experience programmes, which give them a feel of first-hand industry experience. All these are very encouraging trends that encourage the younger generation to understand and fall in love with the hospitality industry.

Pamini Hemaprabha: Promotion of hotel management courses is far behind that of other courses in this age. Many youngsters are more inclined towards choosing medicine or engineering, purely based on the social awareness these subjects have. We need to make our voices heard so that it reaches younger generations and they can make right career choices.

Every summit should include students from universities as attendees. All colleges must have a hotel management programme and the lives of successful hoteliers need to be celebrated loud, so it reaches youngsters through social media, for example, and they may find our industry attractive. Treating our staff with utmost dignity and with pure professionalism is key, as they can be ambassadors for this industry.

Once hoteliers are actually working in the sector, do you think further education is of importance to operators?

Michael Newnham: Inculcating an attitude of lifelong learning among undergraduates is a key goal at EAHM and other universities. Part of this ongoing learning could be further education through professional associations or universities, which would benefit both individuals and organisations. As individuals move up the career ladder, their effectiveness and long-term career growth is enhanced by post-graduate studies such as MBAs, which could be generalist (e.g. hospitality) or specialised (e.g. finance, HR, marketing). In general, by keeping up-to-date with one’s profession and industry, you avoid becoming a dinosaur and keep your options open. Further education helps one gain mastery in a vocational area.

Sneha Rahul: Further education is a part of continuing professional development. What we know today is getting outdated tomorrow. After your graduation, once you enter the real world, then your skills are put in to tangible assessment. A workplace shows you exactly where you have to improve; it can be a soft skill or pure technical knowledge. It is central that you work on yourself and don’t remain stagnant.

Learning and development budgets have moved far beyond induction and safety & security trainings. We all want our employees to learn more and to develop their competencies. Our learning calendars are inclusive of external trainings and online business skill development courses. Similarly, an eternal degree often opens door to a wider world and comprises of newer technics.

Remmie de Graaf: For me education is a constant journey. Regardless of age, one needs to keep up regularly with changes. The great thing about further education is that one can choose a particular topic or subject, and focus on it. There are many opportunities to gain further education. For us at Hilton Garden Inn Ras Al Khaimah, team members have access to the Hilton University and can learn a myriad of subjects from digital marketing to cocktail making. In this internet age, where information is readily out there, there are many further education options — from free online courses on platform such as edX and Khan Academy, to even participating in online forums.

Andrew Vieira: It is very important to keep developing your knowledge and there’s no time to stand still once you’re in a role. I don’t think it matters if your further education or training is provided in-house, or you are seeking it from an external source. What matters is that the training you receive is relevant and beneficial to your growth and the growth of your organisation. Most companies encourage employees who want to develop their knowledge or skills, and there are also some who are willing to financially support those who wish to further hone their skills.

Pamini Hemaprabha: Any extra education helps in identifying areas for our development. Whilst it’s not a must, pursuing higher qualifications can be a healthy practice. Doing an MBA can improve knowledge and skills, while a finance course can help understand figures better as we escalate ourselves in the industry. There are so many courses that hotels offer their employees, whilst they continue with their work. MBA courses and English speaking courses are offered to beginners. Online finance management courses are offered to HODs to improve their financial understanding.

What do you think hoteliers would like to see included in a degree for new entrants to the industry?

Michael Newnham: Hoteliers like to seek ‘work-ready’ students who can quickly settle in and contribute. In particular, work internships and other part-time work help to prepare students for this. As well as having broad knowledge of the various facets of the industry, employers want graduates who can ‘fit’ in a team and know how to get the job done. Employers also want passionate, service-oriented, conscientious graduates who pay attention to customer satisfaction, but who can also create spreadsheets, write reports, interpret data, investigate and solve problems, manage their time, master technology, carry themselves well, and so on. They need to possess the required  attitude and skills for the workplace.

Sneha Rahul: Service is the core of our industry and graduates from a highly service-oriented degree will be more mindful and prepared about what is expected from them. A candidate who is aware about the industry will adapt easily compared to others. He/she has a fair idea about what is happening in each department and this will help you to have better team spirit and corporation. In addition, having an overall picture about all the departments will reduce  the burden on learning & development investments for the companies. Moreover, while recruiting, it makes us confident that we are looking at a passionate professional who will put his/her level best to prove themselves and move up the ladder.

Remmie de Graaf: For me, I believe in the application of the knowledge and the development of transferable skills. As an example one may learn how to run different table services at school, but the more important thing to take back from the lesson are: how can one adapt it based on theme and facilities of the outlet, how to manage guests’ expectations, and how to interact with guests.

Andrew Vieira: This really depends on which way the candidate wants to move forward, the time he or she has, and how they wish to start. Most people begin with an undergraduate course and jump into a hospitality career. But nowadays the trend is more towards post-graduates completing their education before they start in this field. I too would recommend the latter, as it is far better and more advantageous to come fully prepared with a complete post-graduation and all the knowledge and skills acquired. That not only gives you a much greater advantage when you start, but also ensures quick and steady growth.

Pamini Hemaprabha: Hotel management graduation is the best choice for any starting candidate as it can give you an early insight and prepares you for the upcoming episodes of the industry. Qualification related to commerce helps us in understanding finance points of view and improves our maths regarding profit and loss.

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