Unfilled opportunities in Hospitality Colleges

Hotel management graduates are avoiding hospitality sector. To address this issue, govt should take remedial measures such as modernizing facilities in existing hospitality institutes, among others.

Ananya Kukreja

The Indian hospitality industry is currently facing a two-fold challenge. Firstly, there has been a decline in hotel bookings due to the immediate impact of COVID. Secondly, there is a shortage of trained workers in the hospitality sector. Although there has been a gradual recovery in the number of hotel bookings, a concerning trend has emerged. Hotel management graduates are choosing to pursue careers in other industries, actively avoiding the hospitality sector. This trend has resulted in a scarcity of skilled workforce within the industry, which is a wasted opportunity. This trend is surprising, considering the significant size of the hospitality industry in India, which contributes approximately 7 per cent to the GDP. Nithil Baskar, Director, Operations, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, advised, “With the amount of money, hospitality and tourism pump into our GDP, we must have a government regulated body to certify hospitality institutes much like we have for medical and engineering.”

Therefore, it is important to assess and discuss the factors leading to such a migration and the non-adoption of hospitality jobs. Remedial measures can follow. According to Vimal Kumar, Principal, The Lalit Suri Hospitality School, “There are two major factors that are leading to this situation: low pay-outs to fresh joiners for long hours and a lack of certainty in career progression. These issues are inter-connected and lead to freshers dropping out of the field that has deleterious impact on the hospitality industry.”

Low pay for new graduates

There has been a clear stagnation in the salaries offered to fresh graduates in the hospitality industry. Many newcomers are being offered salaries that fall short of covering the basic expenses required for a graduate to sustain themselves. This issue is particularly acute in metropolitan cities where the cost of living, including rent, food and healthcare, is higher compared to other cities. Nisheeth Srivastava, Principal, IHM Mumbai, highlights that the hospitality industry is not even meeting the minimum wage requirements for graduates. Ironically, due to union pressures, untrained staff members are often paid higher wages, which demotivates fresh graduates and prompts them to explore alternative options within the service sector. This situation leads to the demoralization of hotel management graduates who have dedicated significant time to studying and training. The mismatch of skilled workers earning less than unskilled workers creates a negative growth trend.

The current generation has a wide range of career avenues and changing careers has become easier than ever before. In fact, other related fields offer higher starting salaries compared to the hospitality industry. For instance, jobs on cruise ships, in event management, the airline industry and mall management often provide more attractive compensation packages. M K Dash, Principal, IHM Lucknow, said, “Whereas the retail sectors and other allied sectors pay a bit higher, which reflects in the young minds—the peer pressure, the family pressure and the societal pressure for a high package soon after the course is normally desired for a job at the beginning. Ultimately, the candidate either goes for higher studies or changes their mind about joining the hospitality industry. Thus, the brain drains.”

The retail and allied sectors have realized that hospitality graduates are equipped with a defined set of client handling skills, decent communication abilities and empathy, which are crucial to their businesses. The costs incurred to train a fresh graduate from other domains is reduced and incorporated into packages offered to hospitality students. The idea of waiting patiently for five to seven years to reach a supervisory position after having started at entry-levels has gone for a toss.

Fresh graduates realize that the cost-benefit analysis is skewed against them, giving them even more reasons to leave the industry and pursue a career switch.

Hazy growth trajectory

Another significant issue is the lack of clear growth pathways for hotel management trainees in contrast to professions such as consultants, doctors, or bankers. The expectations placed on fresh graduates in entry-level hospitality jobs are often inconsistent and dictated by immediate superiors. Work hours are frequently irregular and disorganized. A K Singh, Director, FHRAI Institute of Hospitality Management, commented, “The working hours need to be strictly regulated to 8-9 hours only, and in metro cities, one off in a week is not appropriate and candidates are looking for two offs in a week.  Few hotels in the metro have started this to retain existing officers, supervisors and entry-level staff.”

Furthermore, fresh hospitality management graduates often face a skills mismatch. This is attributed to outdated syllabi in institutes that fail to address the specialized skills required for entry-level positions in the industry. According to Kumar, “The final years of academics should provide a profound understanding of an entrepreneurial mindset, opportunities to plan and execute events and clarity in choosing a career path that is not influenced solely by mentors.”

Way ahead

The need of the hour is for policy intervention by the government to boost the growth of the hospitality industry while enabling the skilling of workers that may otherwise be out of the workforce. Secondly, the central government should also improve upon the infrastructure in existing hospitality institutes so that the technology access of students is on par with their global competitors in other nations. This will help hospitality graduates access better opportunities both in India and abroad. Singh feels that the Ministry of Tourism, the Govt. of India, state governments, hotel and restaurant associations and large hotel chains should set up a CSR fund for the promotion of job opportunities in the hospitality and service sectors.