21:19 (GMT +7) - Monday 24/06/2019

Vietnam Today

People in places

Released at: 14:47, 26/05/2019

People in places

Photo: Viet Tuan

Better cooperation is needed between local tourism companies and training institutions to improve human resources in the tourism sector.

by Nghi Do

Every year Vietravel, a major Vietnamese travel company, needs 300 new employees, not counting tour guides, to meet its expansion needs. But this is one target the company has difficulty meeting, according to General Director Nguyen Quoc Ky. Most new employees are graduates and need to undergo training before taking up their positions and it takes them a year to become highly-skilled, which is a waste of time and money for them and for the company. Many tourism training facilities don’t yet meet the requirements of the market, given how quickly the industry has developed in recent years.

DEMAND-SUPPLY IMBALANCE

Vietnam’s tourism industry has recorded impressive growth of more than 20 per cent per year over the last three years and had a stellar 2018, with international visitors hitting a record 15.5 million and total revenue from tourism services at an estimated VND620 trillion ($26.6 billion). The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has set specific plans, as by 2020 the industry will require at least 870,000 direct workers of regional and global standard together with 2.2-2.5 million indirect workers. By 2028, it will need some 2.9 million direct workers, after growing every year by an average of 40,000, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)’s forecasts. Only 20,000 Vietnamese students graduate from tourism universities each year, however, leading to an inevitable shortage, local insiders said.

Growth in workplace productivity is quite low, according to Mr. Nguyen Xuan Thanh, Development Director at Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV). According to a 2018 Fulbright survey, the country’s workplace productivity is currently equal to 45 per cent and 40 per cent of Malaysia and Thailand’s, respectively, and even lower compared to others in the region. The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) has said that total tourism revenue rose from just $1.23 billion in 2000 to $22.7 billion in 2017, but productivity per person per year was only VND77 million ($3,477).

Growth in tourism productivity over the years has been much lower than in other local industries, Mr. Thanh said. Productivity growth at hotels and restaurants is only 1.2 per cent per annum and in tourist transport only 3.1 per cent. One reason behind the poor figures is the shortage of qualified human resources (HR) in the industry, and this is one of the bottlenecks in the development of the industry, he added. According to 2018 research by VNAT on foreign language levels among tourism HR, staff with graduate degrees or higher accounted for 9.7 per cent, while those with college or intermediate degrees was 51 per cent and less than that 39.3 per cent.

TRAINING PARTNERS

The majority of tourism HR lack occupational skills and knowledge on service provision, foreign language skills, soft skills, and professional and management skills, which are needed to meet the critical demands of the tourism industry. It has been noted that exacerbating this shortage is limited practical training and poor cooperation between training facilities and the market. “These are limitations and challenges for the sector,” said Ms. Phan Thi Thuy Tien, Director of Vatel Vietnam, the Vatel International Business School’s subsidiary in hotel and tourism management.

The number of employees in the tourism industry fluent in foreign languages is quite low. According to the VNAT research, the number of staff fluent in English accounts for about 42 per cent of the total, and Chinese, French, and other languages 5, 4 and 9 per cent, respectively. This is one of many reasons Vietravel spent more than VND10 billion ($431,000) on training new recruits in 2018. While Mr. Ky recognizes that investing in HR is necessary for every business, training costs are enormous.

Many tourism companies are like Vietravel and must outlay hundreds of thousands of dollars to retrain graduate recruits. Mr. Bui Ta Hoang Vu, Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Tourism, said links between tourism schools and employers to build training programs that produce quality HR were largely absent for many years. Only recently have Vietravel, Saigontourist, and other major companies actively worked with training schools to narrow the skills gap. Vietravel also purchased a stake in Kent International College in March, where it is expects to strengthen practical skills and foreign language skills.

Another facility, Hoa Sen University (HSU) in Ho Chi Minh City, has partnered with international groups in hospitality and business management to improve the quality of HR in the tourism industry. Training courses with partners focus on addressing two major challenges: foreign language skills and professional skills under the Vietnam Tourism Occupational Standards (VTOS). Seventy per cent of the course is practical and students gain experience in actual working environments at high-end hotels.

Ninety-five per cent of graduates from HSU’s Faculty of Tourism in the 2011-2018 period found jobs, of which 53 per cent worked at four-star and five-star hotels, airlines or other aviation companies, and travel companies. It also struck an agreement with hotel chains recently to recruit 1,000 of its graduates, and often receives recruitment requests from major tourism groups. “We will have more cooperation with tourism companies, under which students can conduct more research and gain practical experience,” said Dr. Mai Hong Quy, President of HSU. “We also plan to extend internships to improve the quality of our training courses.”

FLEXIBLE MODELS

Just like other industries, tourism is being strongly influenced by digital transformation, as many more users seek to book and pay online. This requires local tourism companies improve their products and services and personnel to best serve customers. Looking at the HR challenges, Mr. Thanh from FUV suggested that Vietnam should build a training system that is more flexible, instead of focusing on existing training courses at the undergraduate level and above. A common trend in education now is to use open digital platforms as digital HR development centers for training at all levels, and these need to be built by tourism companies and schools, he added. Of a similar mind, Mr. Nguyen Thanh Nam, Rector at FUNiX Online University, said online training models could address the barriers facing HR training in the tourism industry.

Many hotels in Hoi An ancient town, one of the country’s most popular destinations, still lack maids as no facility provides the necessary training. In another case, the Muong Thanh Group has launched 12 hotels altogether and sought large numbers of staff, but found recruitment quite troublesome. According to Mr. Nam, an online training model would meet requirements, as Vietnam has good internet and Vietnamese people are willing to study. “HR in the tourism industry would experience a breakthrough if online training certificates were to be approved by the government,” he said.

Ms. Tien from Vatel Vietnam said applying technology in training must and will happen. Technology is being offered in various forms, such as blended learning (a combination of classroom instruction and computer), and at this time it represents the best way forward. “We will certainly go digital but we should not forget that the core characteristic of this industry is to enhance the customer experience,” she added. “There is no fixed model for all training institutes, but a successful training program would be one that provides learners with complete, updated knowledge and skills, and one that skillfully combines both traditional and any new trends in training philosophy and formats.”

Hospitality industry training in the years to come needs to help young people open their minds to the world of innovation. Changes must be about providing students with the ability to adapt to new circumstances and gain life-long skills. Students should also be trained in critical thinking and problem-solving, rather than simply in knowledge. Existing knowledge and skills may well be obsolete in the near future and no one can predict what skills future workers must have given the rapidly-changing technology seen everywhere. Ms. Tien underlined that training students to be competent and ready for change with a positive working attitude and work ethic are key features in a quality training program.

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