Lifelong Learning: The Benefits to Today's Hoteliers

By Robert M. O'Halloran Professor & Director, School of Hospitality Leadership, East Carolina University | March 03, 2019

Hospitality business education curriculums are ever evolving to adapt to the changing marketplace. Through research, engagement, and industry partnerships, hospitality programs are constantly updating and enhancing their offerings to produce graduates that will enter the workforce and hit the ground running. It is typical for seniors and soon to be graduates to think, "I will never be in school again". What most young professionals find is that they are required, formally or informally, to be a student forever.

Lifelong learning is not a new concept but one that continues to evolve in an ever-changing workplace. Hospitality education professionals are cognizant of the workforce demands for talent and their role in nurturing that talent to retain them in a competitive industry. 

Hospitality programs seek to offer sound educational curriculums that provide relevant educational experiences to students, alumni, and industry partners. In a new work world educational programs need to offer both academic and experiential forms of education and, more specifically for the hospitality industry, do so by utilizing the industry as a classroom in hotels, restaurants, resorts and all forms of hospitality and tourism businesses. Unique to hospitality programs among other business disciplines is the requirement of all students to complete work experiences and or internships.

Many programs also engage in other forms of experiential learning with local hospitality businesses in the form of projects for a business, volunteering and more. Hospitality programs offer a mixture of formal education and experiential learning including internships, projects for a business, volunteering and more. The result are graduates that see a business as a whole and how all the parts fit together. 

Hospitality business programs are also inclusive of technology. Many also focus on industry metrics and management and also offer at least some framework for small business and entrepreneurism. Additional content topics that go across the curriculum could include communication strategies, employee ethics, emergency management skills, and political action awareness and involvement. More recently, specific content is being offered that includes related topics such as wellness for guests and wellness options for hospitality managers and staff, as well as customer service and management reaction time.

In an era of Trip Advisor and more, guests expect an immediate response, and a response that maintains the value of their experience. This can be a challenge to teach, underscoring urgency, and thereafter reaction to the situation while still trying to stress the maintaining of quality standards.

Sustaining trends in hospitality business education include web based and other technological instruction, evolving on-line learning platforms, and social media plus mobile apps for learning. Additionally, the growth of professional certifications, designations and/or learning badges while in college and after graduation will likely be the norm in lodging, food service, tourism, as well as meetings and events. Diversity and multicultural management are also skills for new managers that are important. 

Hospitality programs need to prepare graduates to be ready today and be prepared for the future. Curricula can always add new topics; e.g. vacation rentals, AIRBNB, or alternative accommodation. But, how long will these offerings be alternative, and/or will the lodging industry leaders be part of this product segment? Also, for personal and professional development skills, higher education efforts include personal and professional ethics and success. The development of human relations and interpersonal communication skills, critical thinking skills and sound decision-making analytical skills rooted in reflective thought are also important. 

The hospitality industry is positioned in a workplace which requires a balance between technical, service, and managerial skills. To assist in identifying these technical, service and managerial skills, hospitality curriculum planners can utilize the Education and Training Administration's Hospitality and Tourism Industry Model. This model identifies the competencies – or knowledge, skills, and abilities – needed by all hospitality workers. Higher education can use this framework to help to align identified skills with course content in a curriculum. For the purposes of this model, the hospitality and tourism industry are defined as including the following sub-sectors:

  •        Lodging
  •        Tourism and Travel Arrangement
  •        Recreation, Amusements, and Attractions
  •        Meetings, Events, and Exhibitions Management (ETA, 2014). 

The model is depicted as a pyramid consisting of several tiers. The arrangement of the tiers in this shape is not meant to be hierarchical, or to imply that competencies at the top are at a higher level of skill. Instead, the model's tapered shape represents the increasing specialization and specificity of proficiencies covered. Its tiers are further divided into blocks that represent competency areas (i.e., groups of knowledge, skills, and abilities), which are defined using critical work functions and technical content areas. The industry skills and abilities are listed below:

  •        Tier 1 – Personal Effectiveness Competencies
  •        Tier 2 – Academic Competencies
  •        Tier 3 – Workplace Competencies
  •        Tier 4 – Industry-Wide Technical Competencies
  •        Tier 5 – Industry-Sector Technical Competencies (ETA, 2014). 

University level hospitality programs add tiers to this model, integrating business management disciplines. The added tiers will align with management theory, marketing, supply chain management, accounting, finance, management information systems, and more, as it relates to lodging, food service, and tourism. Content that is integrated throughout a curriculum, such as leadership, global diversity and other topics, will also assist hospitality students to better position themselves for the competitive workforce. 

Hospitality programs can argue that their students are often better positioned to see how an entire business functions and the role that the traditional business disciplines play in business success. Hospitality businesses cannot afford to be siloed by discipline but need to be able to offer and engage in academic and practical applications. To consider and plan the future, educators and their industry colleagues must reflect on direction driven questions that can include:

  •        Will the hospitality industry need large numbers of our graduates and or entry level managers in the future?
  •        Is technology going to play a more prominent role in providing service?
  • ·       What will the skill set be for successful managers and or those entering the management ranks for the first time?

o   Knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis of industry metrics

o   Math and analytical skills and a graduate's ability to think, make and justify decisions will position them as leaders of their fields.

  •        How will recruitment change and will the industry be more competitive for the desired jobs?
  •        What will be the relationship to jobs, economic prosperity, and business growth with our industry?
  •        How will lifelong learning be part of hospitality business sustainability and retaining employee talent?

Hospitality education needs to continue to promote rigorous standards that will allow its faculty to deliver relevant instruction that balances emerging technical and managerial content. To assist in planning for the future it is important to know what the long-term goals are of entry level managers and the industry's emerging leaders. Access to life-long learning opportunities that are tied to job growth and future will likely be key in the recruiting process.

Graduates and new managers in the industry are often referred to as human capital or assets and organizations will need to invest in their assets for them to retain and enhance their value. They will also need to match their values with potential employees in an effort to promote sustained tenure in an organization.

Going Forward

The hospitality industry is full of managers and employees that lack an undergraduate degree in hospitality management or any discipline. Many of these people have risen through the ranks and have reached significant levels of responsibility in their organizations. Do they need a degree? Do they need additional education and training? In today's workforce environment the answer is typically yes. 

The pool of traditional college age students (18-22) are highly sought after. At this stage the competition begins between university hospitality programs to attract students from a shrinking pool. In phase two, some hospitality programs can boast a 100% placement rate, creating an opportunity for hospitality businesses to compete for those students. This makes sense given that workforce is touted as the number one issue in the hospitality industry. These soon-to-be graduates are all good candidates but are there other pools of candidates that can be identified and developed? A non-traditional pool of possible students, over 22 years of age for the purposes of this discussion, can already hold responsible positions and bring to the hospitality industry, experience(s) within and beyond hospitality. 

Some of these hospitality professionals may have no direction or career ladder identified. Therefore, a hospitality program may provide them an avenue of resources to pursue a career. Others may have never finished their education and could benefit from finishing their university degree to move up the career ladder within their organization. The issues for others may be of accessibility and resources. On the academic side, these programs must be aware that hospitality professionals are not likely to return to university education in the traditional manner. Often these professionals have families and obligations that will prevent them from quitting a job and returning to school. The alternative then, to find out if a university program has a different delivery method. Do they offer their programs online? Another question for the potential student is, does their employer offer tuition reimbursement? If university recruiters and potential students can identify each other, perhaps that will provide a match. The student is allowed to finish his/her degree and the hospitality program gets a potentially good student with industry experience and a proven work ethic. 

Working professionals, that could be called potential non-traditional students, are required to be flexible and nimble in working toward their degree. They work full time and then must balance their work lives, family life and academic obligations. In particular, online students must be self-motivated and often work in an asynchronous learning environment. Online education is not for everyone, student or faculty. However, there are a significant number of high-quality educational institutions that can provide online opportunities and a first-class education. Work ethic, flexibility and self-motivation are key traits of these students. These students have solid work experience, are engaged in their jobs and therefore their employers should be supportive of their efforts and be first in line to obtain (or retain) their services. 

Additionally, universities have the opportunity to provide continuing education and other development opportunities for employees both face-to-face and online. The keys for faculty and other curriculum planners are not only to study what the industry is doing, but also look ahead (research the future) of the industry to provide pathways to new ideas, techniques and business models. To reiterate a university needs to be flexible and quick to offer education and training alternatives.

To summarize, in a hospitality era of constant change, evolution of businesses (brands), target markets and products, new technologies, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles, hospitality education can provide the resources for solid content, diverse delivery methods, experiential learning and life-long education. The graduates provided by hospitality education programs can develop candidates that are flexible, nimble and resilient.

More specifically hospitality education programs need to identify, manage and develop opportunities as they pertain to their target markets. A focus on millennials is not only for hospitality businesses, but also for universities and hospitality programs. Hospitality programs must consider the following questions:

  • How have students changed?
  • What are the new and most embraced new teaching methods?
  • Do these new teaching methods include technology?
  • In what has been described as a tech savvy market, how tech savvy are the entering students?
  • Will big data management be part of a new graduates' arsenal of skills?

Going Forward

The hospitality industry is full of managers and employees that lack an undergraduate degree in hospitality management or any discipline. Many of these people have risen through the ranks and have reached significant levels of responsibility in their organizations. Do they need a degree? Do they need additional education and training? In today's workforce environment the answer is typically yes.

The pool of traditional college age students (18-22) are highly sought after. At this stage the competition begins between university hospitality programs to attract students from a shrinking pool. In phase two, some hospitality programs can boast a 100% placement rate, creating an opportunity for hospitality businesses to compete for those students. This makes sense given that workforce is touted as the number one issue in the hospitality industry.

These soon-to-be graduates are all good candidates but are there other pools of candidates that can be identified and developed? A non-traditional pool of possible students, over 22 years of age for the purposes of this discussion, can already hold responsible positions and bring to the hospitality industry, experience(s) within and beyond hospitality.

Some of these hospitality professionals may have no direction or career ladder identified. Therefore, a hospitality program may provide them an avenue of resources to pursue a career. Others may have never finished their education and could benefit from finishing their university degree to move up the career ladder within their organization. The issues for others may be of accessibility and resources. On the academic side, these programs must be aware that hospitality professionals are not likely to return to university education in the traditional manner. Often these professionals have families and obligations that will prevent them from quitting a job and returning to school.

The alternative then, to find out if a university program has a different delivery method. Do they offer their programs online? Another question for the potential student is, does their employer offer tuition reimbursement? If university recruiters and potential students can identify each other, perhaps that will provide a match. The student is allowed to finish his/her degree and the hospitality program gets a potentially good student with industry experience and a proven work ethic.

Working professionals, that could be called potential non-traditional students, are required to be flexible and nimble in working toward their degree. They work full time and then must balance their work lives, family life and academic obligations. In particular, online students must be self-motivated and often work in an asynchronous learning environment. Online education is not for everyone, student or faculty. However, there are a significant number of high-quality educational institutions that can provide online opportunities and a first-class education. Work ethic, flexibility and self-motivation are key traits of these students. These students have solid work experience, are engaged in their jobs and therefore their employers should be supportive of their efforts and be first in line to obtain (or retain) their services.

Additionally, universities have the opportunity to provide continuing education and other development opportunities for employees both face-to-face and online. The keys for faculty and other curriculum planners are not only to study what the industry is doing, but also look ahead (research the future) of the industry to provide pathways to new ideas, techniques and business models. To reiterate a university needs to be flexible and quick to offer education and training alternatives.

To summarize, in a hospitality era of constant change, evolution of businesses (brands), target markets and products, new technologies, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles, hospitality education can provide the resources for solid content, diverse delivery methods, experiential learning and life-long education. The graduates provided by hospitality education programs can develop candidates that are flexible, nimble and resilient.

Mr. O'Halloran Robert M. O'Halloran is a professor and is currently the Director of the School of Hospitality Leadership at East Carolina University. He was previously Director of the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management at the University of Memphis. He has also served in faculty and administrative positions at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, the University of Denver, Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. Professor O'Halloran teaches courses in planning and development, financial feasibility and food and beverage operations. He is also an instructor for the Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE) program offered through the Educational Institute of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Mr. O'Halloran can be contacted at 252-737-1604 or ohalloranr@ecu.edu Please visit http://www.ecu.edu for more information. Extended Biography

HotelExecutive.com retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.com.

Other articles from this author

Robert M. O'Halloran
Robert M. O'Halloran
Robert M. O'Halloran
Choose a Social Network!

The social network you are looking for is not available.

Close

Hotel Newswire Headlines Feed  

Bruce Seigel
Brandon Billings
Gaurav Varma
Matt Schwartz
Tim Peter
Lisa Cain
Dennis Rizzo
Stephanie Hilger
Coming up in April 2019...

Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.