BY TURNING the spotlight on tourism (FE Focus, page IV), the Executive has set training - and further education - a severe test. As part of its new strategy of focusing on niche markets to combat a general fall-off in business, the emphasis is being put on better serving customer needs and therefore on employees' skills development. In a statement that could apply to most areas of business, the Executive's strategy demands "a commitment to lifelong learning". But the next sentence poses the special challenge for tourism, the need to make the commitment stick in the smallest business in the most remote areas as well as to major companies.
In a country where small and medium-sized enterprises predominate, training is more problematic than where major companies set the right trend. Tourism, so central to the economy especially in rural aras, has all the disadvantages of small businesses, though at its best turns that to advantage in terms of closeness to the customer and attention to his needs.
Too often the picture is of low pay, poor career opportunities and lack of attention to standards. More than 50,000 people have participated in courses developed for Tourism Training Scotland, but penetration is not deep enough. The proposed industry-led replacement body will have targets, including 1,000 Modern Apprenticeships by 2003. There is an injunction to the Scottish University for Industry to pay special heed to tourism. Further education colleges and Scottish Qualifications are also rallied to the colours.
Optimistically, restaurant waiters and hotel receptionists are poised with a welcoming smile and a desire to better themselves and their businesses.