As the populations of Asian countries continue to grow, the hospitality industry must look to this region not only as a source market for new customers, but also as a potential supplier of employees. The topic of soft-skills is often approached when speaking of hospitality and the qualities that future managers must possess, and it is arguable that in Asia many people have a unique touch for hospitality due to the innate sense of caring that the various Asian cultures embody.
However, attracting, training, and retaining talent to work in the hospitality industry has its challenges in Asia, due to both social and societal constructs, including challenges in industry perceptions, education, and future career growth. Considering that the Chinese, Indian and the ASEAN countries are the three largest markets in the world, understanding how to make employment in the hospitality industry attractive to the youths in these countries will be important for the maintenance and growth of the industry.
The first major challenge facing the Asian hospitality market is attracting talent for employment in the industry, as it is seen that young people in these countries are not enthusiastic about joining the hospitality workforce. In a panel discussion entitled “Hospitality Soft-Skills: The People & Knowledge Challenge in Asia,” hosted by Lausanne Hospitality Consulting at ”Window 2 the Future” Summit on April 11th 2016, Mr. Ruud Reuland, Board Member of Lausanne Hospitality Consulting, was joined by representatives from Dusit International, Okura-Nikko Hotel Management and Bickson Hospitality Group, in a discussion addressing these impediments.
Mr. Marcel van Aelst, Okura-Nikko Hotel Management, addressed the challenges of hotel
employment in Japan, referring to the lack of hotel schools in the country and the hiring norms for hotels: “Traditional hotels do not hire based on education; employees start from the bottom up. Those with formal education do not work in hotels in Japan because they do not want to work from the bottom.”
Convincing young graduates to join the industry is additionally difficult because the industry itself is relatively unattractive, offering low wages, long hours, little prestige, and apparent weak opportunities for advancement. With a heavy emphasis on training and little on formal education, those with degrees favor positions in other industries that will pay more and offer a sense of pride for both the employee and his or her family.
However, hospitality jobs today can offer prestige and do require education beyond on-the-job training, as demonstrated by the reputations of many hospitality universities in the West. Ms. Suphajee Suthumpun, Dusit International, acknowledged this misalignment, stating, “Universities must up standards to be desirable and acceptable for students – and parents – to raise and improve perceptions.”
Ms. Suthumpun also spoke about both quality and quantity challenges in the labor market, emphasizing the need for more links between the industry and hospitality schools in the educational model. Dusit International is currently active in the development of new schools in Thailand and the Philippines, in collaboration with Lausanne Hospitality Consulting entity of EHL Group. Creating schools focused on hospitality but which educate beyond vocational training, is essential for changing the perception of working in the industry for these cultures. Dusit International is one example of how private initiatives can drive education and attract students and future employees. Panelists agreed that such initiatives are important boosters not only for the education but also the image of the industry. Investment in employees helps to build long-term relationships, trust and a sense of community that is highly valued in Eastern cultures.
But it is also important to acknowledge that hospitality education can prepare students for jobs beyond hospitality. At Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, as many as 50% of undergraduates move into industries outside of the traditional hospitality sector, such as banking, luxury products, and events. A Publicis Live representative stated that the company recruits EHL students because “we are looking for students which are highly motivated and which have the can-do attitude, completely service oriented, and which [are] looking for international experience and travels.” A recruiter from L’Oréal agreed, acknowledging “EHL… is the place to be to find the most dynamic and the best team player that we need at L’Oréal in order to stay the leader on the market.”
(source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=115&v=3zZ72knYCU8) Raising the standards for education in the sector by demonstrating that hospitality schools can prepare students for life beyond hotels can also help to change perceptions and give a touch of prestige to a career in the sector.
Mr. Raymond Bickson, Bickson Hospitality Group, acknowledged the inefficiencies of the educational system in India, but said there is great potential for Eastern cultures to excel in hospitality. He used the example of India, which he said embodies the spirit of hospitality, referring to the Sanskirt phrase “Atithi Devo Bhavah,” meaning “The guest is God,” and reinforcing, “You can teach someone a set of skills, but you cannot teach someone to be nice.” The real challenge, Bickson argued, would be the ability of the Asian workforce to adapt to the needs of the international guest. Understanding the push and pull of service, as well as adjusting habits to tend to how the guest wants to be treated, can present difficulties in any cross-cultural experience. These are the types of soft-skills that are beneficial in all international business sectors, but ones that hospitality schools are especially adept at teaching.
Lastly, the potential for career growth is another discouraging factor for Asian students deciding on career paths. As Mr. Bickson pointed out, in India there is a population of 650 million people under the age of 25; the country has the highest number of trained engineers in the world. Education is very important, so vocational training is a challenge. As well, in Japan, where exams determine the universities a student is accepted to, and the prestige of acceptance outweighs veering from the path, a career in hospitality does not attract youth nor gain support from family members.
Overcoming these barriers requires advances in education, but also changes in mindset, which are much harder to overcome. However, Asian cultures lean strongly towards hospitality, whose traits are rooted deeply within. If the industry focuses on improving perceptions and education, attracting young and vibrant Asian talent to the workforce will become much simpler, and the East will excel its potential to influence the hospitality industry.