By Roy Aguba
(Editor: This article first appeared in the September 10, 2013 Issue of Hospitality News Magazine, now Hospitality News Philippines, with the original title “School-taught skills vs industry-demand skills”. Driven by serious curiosity about employment issues in the industry such as job mismatch and hiring practices, Aguba, a professor at De La Salle Lipa College at the time of this publication, conducted a research that tried to answer how his students can be better equipped for employment and subsequent issues. He shares the findings in three series, with this piece being his second.)
(Updated-03/25/2015) Many of today’s graduates have a hard time finding decent jobs that are suited to their educational background. You would see hospitality management students working as employees outside their specialization or, worse, ending up in low-paying job positions that require only few months of training.
Labor statistics show that roughly half a million graduates are unable to get work in their chosen field despite numerous job vacancies in their industry. Employers often complain about the lack of graduates with employable skills who can easily respond to changing demands of the workplace.
The critical discrepancy between the quality of graduates supplied by academic and training institutions and the demands of the industry is frequently noted.
It was supported by my recent study regarding the competency and skills requirements of selected deluxe hotel in Metro Manila that confirmed the skills gap between the acquired skills from the training institutions and the expectations of the industry. The said study indicated that students have been having difficulty converting theory to work application, specifically in some functional areas.
Basic expectations from the graduates are usually not met by the applicants, including the front office operational ability (reservations), food and beverage management (food service, banquet and events), housekeeping operational ability and marketing in hospitality industry. The new hires are typically not equipped with sufficient knowledge in basic reservations or not familiar with updated reservations systems. Lacking in effective communication worsens the case in the front office, where the new hires are incompetent to handle customer complaints properly.
Another gap observed among graduates are their practical skills related to food service. There are deficiencies in exhibiting excellent service in the workplace due to physical exhaustion, especially because of the long hours of work, which results to significant staff turnover. In turn, hotels prefer to hire only contractual employees rather than regular and permanent.
In relation to housekeeping, employers complain about the technical preparedness of the graduates, especially in the aspects of cleaning procedures, maintaining standards, work assignments and housekeeping tools, supplies and materials familiarization. Marketing is supposed to be performed by marketing experts but, surprisingly, marketing is also an issue among hospitality grads. The new hires are bungling when they actively participate in planning for marketing and weak when it comes to critically contributing to strong promotional strategies.
People or human resource
The training preparations given to students are not strengthened by courses, which are supposed to extensively hone skills related to people. In the same study, employers noted that there is a gap in enhancing the skills of cooperative team building, public relations, and harmonious guest relations. Maintaining exceptional level of teamwork in order to carry out the operations is lacking. Hospitality on the other note, is emphasized as much more people-oriented than other industries and the reason why graduates are expected to demonstrate higher capability to harmoniously related to guests and expression of good public relations which the hotels feel that missing among the applicants.
Entry level positions in hospitality require graduates to acquire strong communication skills. Many graduates, even at on-the-job training level, fall short to pass the hotel’s fairly simple English test of proficiency. There are apparent cultural communications barriers among graduates. Some cases have been observed where the new hires failed to maintain confidence in talking to guests. They had difficulty expressing themselves in straight and proper English. This issue forced the hotels into providing further extensive training sessions on communication before the new hires are deployed to their assigned areas especially for front-line personnel.
Desired skill sets among graduates cannot be holistically workable if people involved fail to acquire personal development. Graduates are lacking with analytical and critical skills, professionalism and foreign- or second- language proficiency. The issue is exacerbated by the inability to provide extensive hands-on experience to students while they are in the training stage to improve these skills sets. The lack in technical and practical knowledge places the new hires in difficult circumstances that necessitate them to immediately immerse themselves in work practices and gain significant employable advantage. It should also be stressed that graduates today are lacking in initiative, particularly in taking personal involvement in understanding the company’s day to day operations for their thinking ability and analysis.
To conclude, in order to satisfy the management needs of the industry, all stakeholders from all the sectors, specifically the academic institutions, have to engage the best positive way of honing well-rounded graduates. Therefore, courses should aim to integrate the best teaching practices that would put in skills and knowledge relevant to the workplace among applicants. In the narrowed sense, hospitality programs must be especially keen in responding to the continual changing consumer and industry trends by making the practical experience viable through skill-based educational content.