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Evolving Hospitality Education Amidst Turbulent Times

Thursday, September 23, 2021, 12:36 Hrs  [IST]
Asmita Mukherjee | Hyderabad

The hospitality industry is one of the worst-hit sectors which has been bearing the brunt of the pandemic. The last year witnessed several hospitality brands struggling with disrupted operations, layoffs, and financial losses. It has forced the industry to radically change its operating processes by adopting digitalisation and new skillsets. To prepare the next generation of leaders, hospitality education is also evolving to equip students with the new-age skill sets needed in the new normal. Asmita Mukherjee delves deep into the world of hospitality education to understand the landscape and trends.

Over the last decade, digitalisation has extensively transformed the hospitality industry and enhanced the customer experience. The pandemic pushed for even greater incorporation of digitalisation and has fast-forwarded the adoption of futuristic technologies, such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, facial and voice recognition, machine learning, chatbots, and data analytics. This has had direct implications for education, and hospitality institutes adapted quickly to redesign and restructure their course offerings and pedagogical practices accordingly.

 “ISH has always been pro-tech when it comes to giving students, the best learning experience and making them future-ready. Our learning methodologies are packed with virtual learning environments and new-age platforms to acquaint students with evolving ground realities. We have also invested in creating smart classes along with advanced learning solutions to provide students with a more integrated and personalised academic experience. We aim to equip our students with the right knowledge and skills, and help them stay ahead of the curve,” said Dilip Puri, Founder & CEO, Indian School of Hospitality.

Speaking about the hospitality education landscape evolution during the pandemic, Benoit-Etienne Domenget, CEO, Sommet Education said, “Digitalisation is one of the most significant recent developments in education and is also one of the most significant in the hospitality industry. Hospitality education is traditionally a face-to-face education environment. Especially the first semester of our Bachelors at Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches is dedicated to practical arts in which students learn the fundamentals of hospitality: gastronomy, wine, and spirits, service. 

During these challenging times for all of us, and hospitality especially, Sommet Education had to invent new ways to transmit this very specific knowledge while moving from a hospitality face-to-face education experience to online delivery. We managed to do so as a company in a very limited time while maintaining the level of excellence in our student learning experience and outcomes. We maintained student personalized support, mentoring, cohort interactions, and community sense of belonging, while at the same time creating innovative, contextualized, and enriched academic content.”

Explaining further about the steps taken to digitalise education delivery, he added,  “We put in place a unique online solution called “Connect” where students were able to continue their studies remotely through the use of digital textbooks accessible 24/7, videoconferences, and online assessments. While the teaching methods are different online to those on campus, we managed to create a whole system, using different tools, for them both, to provide identical learning outcomes. This flexible solution, adapting to the different time zones where our students were, is also highly personalized in terms of the student’s learning journey. Our students are never left alone in their online learning process. They are learning in small classes, having regular one-to-one meetings with their teachers, getting to know both other online and on-campus students through solutions put in place by our teams on campus. Today, we have more than 70 programs that are adapted to online education. Now we offer also blended programs that are a mix of both physical and digital teaching.”

Stressing the importance of physical settings in education, Dr Satish Jayaram, Principal, IHM - Aurangabad added, “The term phygital would ideally describe the nature of services currently being provided in all our service settings today. Education has followed suit. One cannot ignore the physical dimensions when it comes to the consumption of products and services in hospitality. Digitisation has surely been a game-changer, but we create real experiences in real settings. So, a lack of real skilling in physical modes, cannot complete hospitality education. It is an interactive learning process and only a part of it can be digitized. As far as hospitality education goes, the extensive source of qualitative content available digitally, can only offset our knowledge and comprehension requirements. Application of knowledge needs physical content and a skilling setting, which cannot be ignored.”

Importance of Adaptability and agility

In the current environment, two terms that have gained widespread importance are ‘adaptability’ and ‘agility’. These terms have been used to describe the survival strategies of the hospitality industry in the aftermath of the pandemic. The terms have also gained popularity to denote the new in-demand skills in the hospitality student’s arsenal, aiding them to gain employability in a tough market.

According to Dr Suborno Bose, Chairman, IIHM & Indismart Group Worldwide; and CEO, International Hospitality Council, adaptability and agility are two pillars of the hospitality industry, which is known for its resilience and innovation. It is an ever-changing industry and those employed here must also be able to move with the flow. “Hospitality brands are evolving operationally, resulting in leaner, cost-effective structures. There is a lot of technology integration and customization, as brands are becoming more innovative with their products and services. Hospitality students can empower themselves with these key skills through practical training and industrial internships. Managing real-time situations always helps to analyse and find a solution to a problem,” he said.  Bose said that students of hospitality can search for opportunities not only in the hospitality industry but in other industries as well. He said, “At IIHM, we encourage students to explore opportunities not just in the hotel industry but in other industries as well.  The training that we impart helps them to adapt to any industry situation or requirement. In the pandemic situation as well, apart from placing students in prestigious organisations, they are encouraged to start their enterprises. IIHM trains them to adapt to all industries and professions.”

In the current economic and business environment, the hospitality industry needs a workforce that is trained in both hard and soft skills and is aligned with business objectives. With rapidly changing customer behaviour and requirements, the industry is looking to invest in candidates who not only hold immaculate business acumen and robust decision-making skills but are equally good in soft skills such as transparency, empathy, agility, and adaptability. While these skills prove beneficial in a candidate's professional growth irrespective of any field, they hold a more demanding presence within hospitality because the essence of the sector resides in its humaneness. “Students who possess these skills witness strong growth prospects and will always be valued by organisations, as these skills help businesses to move swiftly and efficiently amidst challenging times. In a world that’s continually being shaped by technology, it becomes important to adopt such qualities to effectively maintain virtual touch with customers and establish trust and loyalty. We help students understand and tap into the power of soft skills. As they build their career trajectory, these skills will help them become future-ready and resilient with the ability to shift mindsets, navigate uncertainties, and establish trust. These traits will serve them in both the short and long run while exploring new opportunities in a post-pandemic world,” said Puri.

Up-skilling and cross-skilling are the need of the hour

Like any other sector hospitality industry also fighting for its survival, and the need to the hour is to upskill and cross-skill own self to be relevant in the industry. In this era of survivability, students are also focusing on up-skilling and re-skilling themselves to find employability across a range of industries. 

A.K.Singh, Director, FHRAI-IHM informed that since jobs have been badly affected in hotels and restaurants, therefore multitasking was the only option available with staff and outlets. At the same time, they tried to acquire knowledge and skills required for other industries. Even a reasonable number of students tried entrepreneurship skills in that period, learned several new traits, and earned money with that valuable experience.

While speaking about hospitality management as a subject, Bose said that the subject is not restricted to the hotel industry alone. He stated that there are innumerable avenues open for hospitality students. “There is a huge demand for hospitality students in aviation, event management, cruise liners, healthcare, banking, luxury retail, high-end real estate, and many more. These jobs are high in task variety and personal interaction and demand an aptitude for innovation and independent thinking. Similarly, culinary students can also study business and entrepreneurial modules that equip them with the skill and understanding of how to start and run their ventures,” he added.

According to Jayaram, the real game-changers for quantum leaps into future roles will be complex problem-solving skills, higher-order macro thinking abilities, and creative but critically sound innovation. Interpersonal abilities, teamwork, and cognitive flexibility will evolve into more valuable future assets. “Emotional/spiritual intelligence, abstract reasoning, rational decision making, and self-driven leadership will hold our future generations together. None of these modules are available as a quick fix in any of our curricula, which will at best provide theoretical exposure. The ideal way to acquire this set of competencies is through the world of work - physical, phygital, digital, or social on electronic channels. Future universal competencies will add to the unique skill set of hospitality graduates who have already gained many other inherent salutary advantages,” he added.

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