Over the last few years Malta’s higher education system has seen a complete transformation, with a number of licensed higher education institutions sprouting across the island offering specialised courses ranging from business administration to management. This could have a number of potentially positive effects on the quality of our labour force, and the patterns and processes of the labour market.
A more skilled and inquisitive labour force means that we may have just acquired the tools to be more innovative in our business models and embrace newly-emerging concepts shaping the industry, such as digitalisation and automation. It is therefore important that as the world of work and the industry processes evolve, teaching and training evolve accordingly.
The teaching and training of tourism and hospitality is not an exception. Tourism in Malta is one of the vital organs of the economy; presenting a flexible and rapidly-evolving industry heavily based on human capital. It is therefore in this light that we must re-assess the way that tourism is taught as an inter-disciplinary subject which marries the social sciences with a critical appreciation of the arts and culture.
Investing in soft skills
A recent skills survey conducted by Jobsplus (Malta’s Public Employment Services), Malta Enterprise and the National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE) has revealed that whilst a good number of our workers may be specialised in a number of distinct areas, the acquisition of soft skills remains a problem. The survey reveals that the skills which are needed the most are communication skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork and leadership skills.
This is a direct result of the way in which our education systems have been structured. So far, the emphasis in higher education has been on theory, desk-based research and a heavy dose of in-classroom or laboratory experiments which favour the acquisition of technical skills. However, in a rapidly-changing economy characterised by digitalisation, automation and robotisation, where people require technical upskilling on a regular basis, shouldn’t we start investing more in transversal skills to ensure that our labour force is able to adapt?
Therefore, study programmes, especially with regards to the teaching of subjects concerning people-based industries such as Tourism and Hospitality Management, need to give more attention to soft skills. The acquisition of communication skills, social media skills, negotiation, leadership, and teamwork skills shouldn’t just be seen as some king of up-skilling crash course one takes throughout his/her career.
These values should be instilled in our labour force from an early stage, if we want to remain a relevant destination market. Specific study units addressing such skills should be part of the syllabi and learning outcomes of tourism courses. Soft skills are the key to a transversal labour market which can adapt and transform the changes shaping the world of tourism and hospitality into opportunities for the local market.
Closer cooperation with industry
Industry trends change continuously and hence it is imperative that our labour force is prepared with the necessary skills to be able to deal with such changes. Given the specific nature of tourism and hospitality, having an ill-equipped workforce which is not in touch with the latest trends within industry, could seriously threaten its very future.
Whilst placing further emphasis on internships as part of the higher education experience could be a good start, we must also think about widening our horizons in our teaching techniques to truly embrace the industry. We need to explore better ways to enhance exchange of practices amongst training institutions, businesses, employers and social partners in order for each stakeholder to remain in touch.
We require more investment, technical and policy support to establish think-tanks that could delve into innovative research and training techniques, and that could facilitate the exchange of ideas and concepts between the stakeholders involved. However, this is not the means to an end.
Expanding our horizons also means that we need to make our policy mechanisms more flexible and open to enable international exchanges and enhance the transferability of education between countries not only within the EU but also on an international level. This can be one of the solutions to enhance our competitiveness and innovation in an increasingly globalised market.