Redefining the educational landscape in hospitality

Redefining the educational landscape in hospitality

In a world of rising nationalism, International travel has taken on a greater importance, providing tourists with a wider range of opportunities and choices, which had not been previously available. Thailand is one of the world's most visited countries, with Bangkok being ranked recently as number one in the world (20.5 million) for international visitors. The expansion of international tourism has helped drive economic growth, creating a booming glut of hotel construction. There is, however, an insufficient skilled workforce to properly staff these new operations.

Having more spendable income, the middle class population is growing larger and we are seeing more Thais travelling overseas and experiencing international cuisines in great locations, putting further pressure on local chefs to rise up and deliver higher standards in their home-based operations. The Michelin Guide introduction into Thailand, together with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), is helping with this trend. We are seeing culinary and service standards rising, providing educated chefs and F&B professionals with a greater chance to catch on and drive revenues and trends. In the competitive markets of Asia,  countries and cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok are now competing for the same foodies' dollars especially within the LGBT communities.

The economic impact brings other challenges to the kingdom. The perception of Thai parents of work in hospitality has not always been seen as the best future for their children. An office or even lower paid job in banking has traditionally been perceived as the better option. Thai families may have perhaps overlooked the importance of having a vocational education and its benefits. Many Thais believe such degrees do not provide a positive outlook for their future careers, an attitude which is misleading, showing a preference for an undergraduate degree, with many parents putting pressure on their children to pursue, when there is no real interest. That may or may not necessarily bear fruit for their offspring or guarantee them a job in the future. Realistically, each person has his or her own talent, attributes and natural skill set. Consequently not everyone will benefit from taking the traditional Baccalaureate degree. People who choose a trade or attend a vocational school may realise a greater potential for success. No one should undermine the importance that such a degree may have in the educational platform. However, a very important factor has been missed in Thailand, which is the importance of vocational schools to the Thai economy.

Many of today's entrepreneurs are expecting instantaneous success moving on a fast track of expectations to become the next Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Jack Ma, without having the most important qualities: experience and skills to do so. The willingness to go through some “harder” times to learn and study either in vocational and/or hospitality industry areas is often lacking. Everybody wants to be a manager after working 3-6 months in hospitality after leaving school. The initial struggle can in fact bring a major benefit to those individuals wishing to pursue a career in the hospitality industry. After all, hospitality is a people skill, which needs time investment to do a great job. There cannot be a shortcut in order to be effective.

A thriving economy needs both a skilled labour force, and a strong competent management structure

Western education and technology have been absorbed into this devout Buddhist society. The market demand for skilled professionals outweighs the workforce needed to meet these new challenges. Thailand's current educational system is inconsistent, underperforming, and unable, to meet the demand of the current market needs.

One of the ways to address such challenges is training a workforce which is capable of meeting the growing demands of the hospitality market, increasing productivity and offering job satisfaction. Employees must also step up, play their part by budgeting, and supporting growth, training and education, offering competitive salaries to assist and support this process. Governments and society must emphasise that there are equally relevant career opportunities to be found in the trades and that there needs to be a major paradigm shift, where the policies and mind-sets of a vocational school occupy a place of no lesser value compared with a university education.

Khun Somkid Jatusripitak, Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister, mentioned that a vocational school diploma is as important as Bachelor, Master, or Doctoral degree. He further mentioned the need for better collaboration between the government and private sectors, and society, to achieve further understanding of vocational schools. The government wants students from vocational schools to have entrepreneurial opportunities in addition to acquiring the significant skills needed.

Vocational schools have a responsibility to deliver a comprehensive well-rounded and meaningful education that meets the demands of the market and prepares students for success along their future career paths. One could take this point one step further and state that human creativity is as important in education today as literacy and should be treated so.

Thanks to social media, culinary skills appear so easy – but they are not! We live in a dynamic fast-paced economy. Teaching topics that are relevant and current to our students is essential in the educational brief. Such topics include zero waste, sustainability and secondary meat cuts as part of the course curriculum. Innovative culinary courses such as World Cuisine and Asian Street Food are part of the culture of Asia. So why are these topics not being covered in current lesson plans? We understand the importance of classical French cuisine and how it plays a key role as part of culinary educational roadmaps but in today's world, we must do more and move away from, or at least evolve beyond the past. Although after making such a statement, we also feel it is important to retain the traditional organisational structure found in today's kitchen operations, as this affects organisational actions and provides the foundation on which standard operating procedures and routines rest.

A common misconception among our young chefs when completing their studies is that they can walk straight into a senior culinary position or open their own businesses funded by their families, as opposed to taking the time to learn in an on-the-job environment. The ever-evolving free-standing restaurants require some solid foundations in terms of knowledge, skill and business acumen. It is fairly easy to see how many (or few) are still successful six months after opening. Real World Experience (RWE) is nothing new but is equally important in today's hospitality industry. Such hands-on learning experiences provide critical learning scenarios, which should be included in vocational schools' operations, and be overseen, supervised and enforced by industry professionals.

For the aspiring chefs and budding entrepreneurs, learning how to cook a recipe is no longer an acceptable trait to be successful in today's fast-track world. The hospitality industry demands and expects that its employees have multiple skills, encompassing critical thinking and business management as well as entrepreneurship, food & beverage, and catering as part of their distinguishing characteristics. Other traits have also become a necessity for the next generation of chefs and entrepreneurs, such as being able to multi-task and having a sense of urgency in the work place. These are common faults identified by many executive chefs and F&B managers in Bangkok.

More people are travelling than ever before and are setting new expectations for the hospitality industry to meet. Only 30 years ago, it was important for international hotels to offer an American cheesecake on the menu for travelling clientele. Today these demands have changed and are far greater, with people expecting to have access to a wider variety of international, quality-driven and fine-tasting foods.

Vocational schools must embrace the latest technological advancements and innovations in the classroom and invest in the future. Likewise, Thailand businesses and government must accept their shares of responsibility, get on-board the innovation fast-track and train and support this process to take us into the future.

Author: Antony Osborne, Managing Director, Culineur, School of Culinary Arts and Entrepreneurship,

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.

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