Time is of the essence, Michael Zitek, Area General Manager at Angsana Laguna Phuket, said on Friday (June 10).
“The skills shortage in hospitality in Phuket is dire. There are people who are very willing to come to work, but it is the next generation,” Mr Zitek said at an AustCham event hosted at the resort that focussed on providing vocational training to plug the skills gap.
“As we have just finished the TTM 2022 [Thailand Travel Mart], we did not have enough full-time associates to deliver that level of service [required].
“We go out for recruitment and hire casual employees and the bodies are there. The desire to work is there, but there is a big gap to catch up to get it back to the skill levels people are expecting,” he said.
“As an industry, we are pressed for time. We have high season looming in September and October,” Mr Zitek noted.
The battering of the tourism industry during the COVID pandemic saw an exodus of skilled, experienced staff, Mr ZItek explained.
“Before COVID, from say 2017-2019, our supervisors and mid-level management were in their 40s and already had 20 years of experience. At the moment our supervisors are maybe mid-20s.
“It has been this attrition of the previous professionals. They have had their own families to take care of and their own industries that they have commenced during the downtime. They have gone away from the industry and established comfortable lives, and they are not running back to Phuket and so on,” he added.
“The bodies are there, the people are there, but the actual skills and experience are not,” he said.
Mr Zitek’s comments came at a presentation of a vocational skills training framework provided by the Hunter Education Group in Newcastle, Australia, working with the Nurture Higher Education Group (Nurture HE), which originated in Bangkok but also now provides international-level education in Indonesia and Vietnam.
The Nurture HE programme offers students a hospitality degree issued by the University of Newcastle through the Thai Chamber of Commerce campus in Bangkok, which is home to some 24,000 students.
Stephen Healy, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Nurture Higher Education Group, explained that the degree is a fully qualified Australian degree, benchmarked against Australian university education standards.
The skills and competencies taught must pass those standards, or the accreditation and certification cannot be provided.
Dary Milani, CEO, Hunter Education Group, noted that feedback from the industry presented three critical hurdles. Hoteliers had responded:
- We can’t find people with the levels of service standards that we need to service the higher volumes and higher expectations of customers
- We need trained hospitality workers from the region, as this profile of worker is unlikely to move from major cities
- We are losing junior workers to other industries because they don’t see the aspirational career opportunity.
The units of competencies (skills) ‒ anywhere from cocktail making to financial budget creation ‒ are taught as separate subjects, but they can be clustered together and provided as intensive training to deliver focussed training in specialised areas, he said.
The programme offers flexibility. “The units can be taken in bite-sized pieces,” Mr Milani said.
“Each of those units competencies could be delivered in an accelerated cluster or intensive cluster over a weekend,” he added.
The advantage of being able to reorganise subjects taken by students allows for fast-tracking of skills, but the quality of education for the overall degree is not compromsied, Mr Milani noted.
“Students must still meet a volume unit credits in order to complete the qualification in full,” he said.
Mr Healy raised the possibility of pop-up training sessions to be held locally in order to help hotels fast-track the upskilling of their staff.
The competencies taught and tested do not change for small or large hotels. They remain the same requirements for certification, he said.
This provides for uniform skills validation and helps with transferability, Mr Healy noted.
Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce President M. L. Laksasubha Kridakon, herself a hotelier, praised the framework presented to provide skills training.
“Most of my staff went back to Isarn, but we managed to recruit most of them back again. We still have mid-level and novice level staff, but they haven’t got the skills,” she said.
“As tourists come back the expectation is that service will be top notch,” said M. L. Laksasubha, who also owns and operates the Laksasubha Resort in Hua Hin.
“As managers have gone home to open cafes in Udon and so on, bringing people in without skills is going to be telling. Tourists come back and note that the service is different. They see new staff who are not fully trained yet.
“If you use this kind of programme it will help to speed things up with those staff who really want to learn ‒ and the guests will be happier,” she said.
“I think this idea of having the vocational education that they [the staff] can afford and increase their potential as an international student through these programmes will help our industry,” she added.
Mr Zitek also appreciated the long-term impact the programme may provide through training skilled staff within the industry.
“We have an Memorandum of Understanding with Prince of Songkla University [PSU] to take on graduates. But right now that’s only 10,” he said.
“The capacity of PSU or other establishments to help us to catch up is not going to be there, so it is perfect timing to have this opportunity where we can look at outsourcing the education to help us establish not only the next generation for the industry, but also help our retention,” he added.
“If there were a situation where we could develop from zero skills up to mid- management up to senior management with the enticement of a recognised qualification at the end of that, it is going to be a great advantage,” Mr Zitek noted.
“We’re now really in a situation of rebuild and restore. I think it is important to address this in terms of the hospitality reputation of Thailand. It is important to give opportunities to grow and develop, and have certification that is transferable between hotels,” he said.
“The younger generation are quite confident to change jobs quite often, but if there were the opportunity to transfer that quality of education or skills to the next place and continue learning, as much as we compete, we could collaborate for the redevelopment of skills that represent Thailand,” Mr Zitek concluded.