A skills boost for all the seaons

28th March 1997 at 00:00
You might think that serving behind the bar does not require much skill or training, and the only qualification is the ability to handle the customer who likes his liquor too much.

But a national training initiative launched this month shows this is far from the case. The training and enterprise councils of Devon and Cornwall, Hertfordshire and Kent, along with the Academy of Food and Wine Service and the Department for Education and Employment have combined to form a new training package aimed at raising skill levels and boosting profitability.

Cairns Boston, chairman of Devon and Cornwall TEC, said at the launch: "As many employers know to their cost, unfortunately staff turnover in the tourism and leisure industry is high, as there is little opportunity to train staff, who are often only seasonal or part-time. We hope this training package, which is linked to national vocational qualifications, will prove a boost to business and an incentive to young people to enhance their skills and remain in the industry."

Tourism is big business. It accounts for a quarter of our overseas earnings in services and earns more from exports than North Sea oil, financial services or civil aviation. Tourism accounts for 7 per cent of the nation's jobs and is one of the main engines for economic regeneration.Virginia Bottomley, the Heritage Secretary, recently said tourism would soon be the single largest industry in the country. According to Warwick University's Institute for Employment Research the trend away from manufacturing and other industries, to services, noticeably tourism and leisure, is expected to continue beyond 2001. Its size and its importance to the economy show why courses in leisure and tourism are booming.

Malcolm Bell, director of economic development at Devon and Cornwall TEC, is chairman of the TEC network on leisure and tourism. Up to 40 TECs are in the network, sharing good practice and helping to devise training packages for the industry. They are currently engaged in four major projects: working with the Department of National Heritage to produce benchmarks in customer service, in hotels and restaurants, licensed retailing, leisure and attractions; developing a resource pack to help employers to improve their service standards, working in parallel with the benchmarking initiative hotels; developing Modern Apprenticeships in tourism; and producing a kitemark for model employers.

"One of the problems is some of the jobs in this industry are not seen as proper jobs. It is important for people to gain qualifications in order for them to gain esteem. Many are proper jobs, for 12 months in a year and have a well-developed career path. Others are seasonal or part-time but they still add value and we should recognise their importance," Mr Bell said.

"There is a kind of snobbery which says that if a job is not full-time and one that has a pension then it is not a real job. We want people coming in to do the casual, part-time jobs, to get qualifications. That way we could get the learning bug instilled. There is a lot of unaccredited learning going on but we want people to see the need for picking up a qualification."

Mr Bell and his colleagues are also aware that in this seasonal world there are bad employers who are merely happy to take on staff for a short period and pay them as little as possible. "That is why it is important to recognise good employers who do provide decent training and abide by contract law. This is where the kitemark comes in.

"In this industry there is a core of permanent career people. Then there are three times as many who just want to spend two or three years, or perhaps just a season, working part-time, and that is enough for them at their time of life. The challenge is to get these people qualified and to get the industry to value people being qualified. It is a massive industry but much of it is run by small businesses. We have to improve skills and persuade the people running those companies that they need improved skills," he said.

Birmingham is one city which is very aware of the importance of tourism to its economy. Its hotels and catering industry is the only commercial service sector in which Birmingham has increased its share of the region's employment. It has actively sought to establish the city as as major centre for business tourism, including developing its National Exhibition Centre and an International Convention Centre. A study of the economic impact showed that 4.5 million visitors were attracted a year, generating #163;438 million of business annually, supporting 16,000 jobs.

According to the Birmingham TEC employment in the hospitality, tourism and leisure sector has increased by 25 per cent in the past 15 years and is forecast to continue growing from the current 19,500 to 28, 000 by 2006.

Four out 10 new jobs being created in the next decade are expected to be in this industry but the TEC has identified some serious skills shortages in the workforce: management skills; computer literacy; communication and personal skills; and literacy and numeracy. The industry is perceived to be low status, low pay with unsociable hours, so the TEC has been helping employers to improve their image and working conditions as well as supporting their training activities.

One scheme it has developed is the Hospitality Initiative. Major events, seasonal working and staff leave and sickness creates a high demand for casual workers who can be drafted in at a moment's notice. The initiative supports the training of casual staff as stock for the industry. Those interested in working in the industry are given training and awarded a certificate if they reach a quality standard and receive a satisfactory report from their first placement. Their names are then registered on a central data base to be called upon as and when required. The initiative has been running for three years, training approximately 600 people, many of whom have then secured permanent jobs.

In the Lake District and surrounding area the season for tourism now virtually extends throughout the year. John Porter of Cumbria TEC works closely with employers and knows they have to change the image of the industry. "There are 1,200 jobs going begging in the Central Lakes. But we are just not able to attract people in to the trade. We have to run a hearts and mind campaign as parents say they don't want their children to go into this industry and many of them are right to feel this way." Again, training is seen as the route to raise the esteem of the jobs and enable businesses to attract high-quality workers.

Last December the Confederation of British Industry published Visitors Welcome which was an examination of tourism and its needs. It said that many in the tourist industry did not believe that either colleges or TECs or Scottish local enterprise companies were fully meeting their needs. "Colleges and tourism businesses appeared to have different priorities, with the result that the outcome of some tourism-rela ted education and training was seen as failing to meet the real needs of industry."

It said that too many tourism businesses did not train, or did not make the best use of resources which they did devote to training. There was clear evidence that investing in training paid. There were strong links between high quality performance and the existence of training.

CENTEC, the Central London Training and Enterprise Council, has carefully studied the Confederation of British Industry report, and also listens closely to its own local businesses, which it regularly surveys. It has established a tourism and leisure manager to develop stronger links with industry. Training workshops in management skills have a tourism-specific programme. Once skills gaps have been identified, CENTEC appoints a training company to provide the desired training.

The general national vocational qualification in leisure and tourism is extremely popular with schools and colleges but there has been criticism from within the industry. Richard Allen, head of training at the English Tourist Board, said: "I am concerned about the vocational relevance of some of the material. My view is that in this area there needs to be a cross-over link between national vocational qualifications and GNVQs. At the moment this is not so, so that disappoints everybody, not least the students."

Some have suggested that the subject is popular in schools and colleges because it is cheap, rather than more practical craft subjects which need intensive investment. The review of GNVQs in the Capey Report will mean that improvements will be made.

Judith Norrington, director of quality and the curriculum at the Association of Colleges, said she was not convinced that all schools had the necessary expertise to teach leisure and tourism. It was also essential to ensure that the courses were practical and down to earth.

But the students have not been put off. Of some 100,000 enrolments in the Further Education Funding Council's hotel and catering programme, leisure and tourism made up 58 per cent and travel 8 per cent. GNVQs have developed well in this area - 1,500 registrations in leisure and tourism in 199293 rose to more than 31,000 in 199495. Students typically have good opportunities to study additional subjects and qualifications, for example languages, information technology and airline ticketing. Inspection grades are strong for this area.

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