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Delivering tourism sector skills: some options

The tourism industry in Sri Lanka will need around 130,000 newly trained personnel by 2020 to serve the four million tourists Sri Lanka hopes to attract by 2020. (2016 - 2.5 million).


Dinesh Weerakkody

According to a study conducted by the National Human Resources Development Council (NHRDC) of Sri Lanka, the tourism industry, based on arrival forecasts, will add around 350,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2020. By 2018, 11,645 rooms would be added to the rooms inventory. The sector according to the report would need 23,360 trained employees before the end of 2017 since these hotels will be in operation by 2018.

The need for managerial employees will be 2,035, Supervisory - 3,135 and other categories around 18,190.

Hotel School

The Hotel School that produces most of our graduates and trainees does not have the capacity to deliver the numbers and the talent needed for the industry. The School's capacity has been increased to 13,000 from 8,000 this year. The industry, however, needs 130,000 trained people by 2020.

The large hotel groups would largely manage their manpower needs through internally generated training programs and therefore, the government should support them with the infrastructure. The other problem is that the tourism industry is still not an attractive proposition for school-leavers and affordability and easy access to acquire a hospitality qualification is an issue for most students.

In addition to the Hotel School, the State-managed Vocational Training Authority and other training institutions conduct various NVQ and non-NVQ courses and programs in the fields of travel, tourism, and hotel and hospitality management.


Tourists riding ponies in Nuwara Eliya. Pic: Thilak Perera

Of the 141 courses offered, 118 are not NVQ certified. Most of these schools and organisations are in the Western Province and therefore, are an issue for rural students to access.

What are our options?

Therefore, it is a must that we develop a strategy, a) to increase the intake in training schools by marketing the industry to young people, b) set up new hotel schools in selected regions to attract young students into the industry and c) upgrade the quality of training and learning with the help of the private sector.

The talent need for the industry is acute at entry and mid levels. Therefore, there is very little time to experiment. The Hotel School programs are subsidised and therefore, cater to the average Sri Lankan because the programs are affordable.

However, the programs needs to be scaled up in line with what the market demands. Rebranding of SLITHM through Accreditation with Hauge, Cornell, Salzburg, Luzane, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic is in progress.

The School is constrained due to its internal regulations which prevents it from attracting the best talent to run the school. The Hotel School Board has industry representatives and therefore, needs to be empowered to deliver talent at all levels by hiring better quality staff.

The School after years of neglect and poor in-house talent is currently upgrading the curriculum in consultation with the private sector and also looking for partners to raise the profile of the school. The option of involving the private sector fully or handing over the school to private management needs to evolve. A Private-Public Partnership (PPP) is a must for a high-end school with an institution such as Glion Institute of Higher Education or Les Roches International School of Hotel Management Marbella and for advanced learning Erasmus University Rotterdam.

But these colleges cater to only a limited group who can afford to pay top end fees. However, many top-end schools do not wish to set up branches in Sri Lanka because the market is small and those who can afford still prefer to do it oversees.

The CIMA and CIM model of franchising programs in partnership with the private sector is a quick way to build Sri Lanka's industry bench strength. However, two additional issues that need to be addressed immediately are; a) upgrade and use the full capacity of the existing training institutions (Annual training capacity 8,599, student present 2,162). b) Set up two or three Hotel Schools with the help of top private operators in two selected regions, c) Conduct district-wise awareness programs in selected towns concurrently among the youth to attract them into the industry. The industry needs a 2020 talent strategy developed in consultation with industry and HR specialists to implement the strategy.

The writer is Chairman, National Human Resource Development Council of Sri Lanka

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