Almost impossible to avoid mentioning in the same sentence, technology and Gen Y represent some of the greatest changes going on in hospitality. To what extent have trainers and educators had to rethink their strategies, asks James Stephen

You don’t need to be Dale Carnegie to see that – as with the rest of the world – hospitality’s training needs have changed over the years.

While the core requirements – front desk, sales, cocktail and bed-making are as relevant now as they were at hospitality’s formative days – today’s professionals need an exponentially growing collection of skills, of which the single greatest of these is inevitably a grasp of the technology increasingly ruling our lives.

And to add further fuel to the flames, along comes Gen Y – tomorrow’s leaders, bursting with potential but requiring a delicate touch to extract the best from them.

Tech it to the top

Focusing on luxury high-level training and developing employees to serve the highest calibre guests, Aspire Globally’s Managing Director Wayne Fitzharris says that technology is now central to what they do.

“I learned years ago that technology has a great deal to offer as a training tool. We have adopted a great number, most notably video. Our training modules make use of camera technology, for example.”

Aspire Globally offers hospitality solutions in executive recruitment, butler and household hospitality training and bespoke consultancy services to luxury homes, leading hotels and restaurants, management contracts and private VIP events.

Fitzharris adds that millennials and other entry employees are expected to immediately perform to high luxury standards when they enter hospitality, but many have gaps in skills and experience.

“Modern training practices try to bridge this to develop a service mindset in preparation for a more effective hospitality introduction and we have the ability now to effectively sift through trainees to identify the stars of tomorrow. If anything, we are quicker to assess candidates capable of true luxury hospitality services and focus on those who will benefit from advanced learning techniques. For this to happen we have to look at the recruitment practices and align these to determine the calibre of those we polish and fine-tune.”

Delivering the goods

Dr Tony Tse, Professor of Practice (Industry Partnerships), The School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, says that in terms of technology, online delivery is becoming increasingly important, with SHTM’s MicroMaster in International Hospitality Management a good example of how the school offers four MSc subjects online. As of early October, it had 32,000 learners from 170 countries, 364 who chose edX verifications – a huge open online course provider – for an official course certificate.

“The use of Blackboard [virtual learning environment and course management system] has become a standard, while social media and video conferencing in teaching is now becoming the norm. Gen Y welcomes the use of technology and online methods in teaching. It is now part of school life and taken for granted. Millennials like to choose when, where, and how they are engaged. They use their time more effectively and flexibly. Technology has enabled their way of learning and interacting.

There is additionally demand for customised training with modules tailored to support or complement organisational goals and direction.” 

Amos Leung, Chief Instructor (Housekeeping), at Hong Kong’s Hotel and Tourism Institute of VTC concurs that while social media and other technology has changed the hospitality industry dramatically, it’s difficult to separate it from its principle proponent, Gen Y.

“They love sharing and online communication and are familiar with social media tools. This knowledge and the speed with which they adapt to new media and digital channels can contribute a lot to the industry. As well as being able to easily share information, we collect assignments and give instant feedback to students online and via social media.”

Training for retention

The other single greatest hospitality issue right now – and indeed throughout the history of the industry – is staff retention. Prem Rao, Senior Consultant Household Recruitment, Aspire Globally, acknowledges that the constant demand for hotel rooms in Asian destinations is seeing more investment than ever, and this dynamic growth constantly offers staff opportunity. But can training help combat this? 

“Successful companies are able to achieve what is in both their and their staff’s interests. These successful relationships nourish the company’s progress and individuals’ growth. Once this becomes a culture, retention increases. 

“For this to happen training should instill company values, with relevant skill sets provided. The company should follow through by rewarding and progressing those who deliver. Companies like Aspire Globally set up programmes to meet this commitment. When staff feel valued and respected they will stay. While it can help in conveying this, training alone will not combat high turnover. Engaging in consistent programmes, performance reviews, and demonstrating genuine interest in their growth will surely guarantee loyal staff.”

Tse also believes that the high staff turnover rates in Asia’s hospitality industry can be curtailed with training.

“Certainly – effective training empowers the workforce. With well-designed training, the workforce is able to reach a higher level of ability; they are enabled, and valued by employers. Training should not be seen as a way to work employees harder and reduce headcount but as a way for employees to grow and achieve more what they want to achieve.”

Millennials like to choose when, where, and how they are engaged. They use their time more effectively and flexibly. Technology has enabled their way of learning and interacting.’ – Dr Tony Tse, Professor of Practice, The School of Hotel and Tourism Management, Hong Kong Polytechnic University