Getting ahead in a thriving industry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am

Furthering your education makes sense as you work your way up the ladder, but you should carefully consider which degree to pursue and when to do it

HONG KONG'S hospitality industry is booming. Demand for staff to work in Macau, with its thriving gaming sector, and the mainland, where new properties are opening faster than you can say 'economic miracle', are putting increasing pressure on manpower availability here. As a result, hotels are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff.

With career opportunities in this thriving industry looking more promising than ever, does it make sense to enhance your promotion prospects with a return to the classroom?

It all depends on who you ask.

Alice Yeung, director of human resources at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, said there was a big advantage to having staff with postgraduate qualifications.

'The mindset and the ability to understand and adapt to changes would be much stronger than someone who does not have the qualification,' she said.

'There will always be a need for people with postgraduate qualifications - they help to develop and improve an organisation's ability to grow in a competitive environment.'

But career advancement does not come automatically after completing advanced training.

'Usually, those who complete a postgraduate course as part of their development are more likely to be the ones more ready to take on additional responsibilities and to expand their current job scope. This is where the opportunity for advancement begins.'

The hotel often sends staff abroad to widen their horizons and enhance their skills.

'By taking them out of the hotel environment, they get an opportunity to focus specifically on the course, network and bring new experiences and problem-solving or business enhancing ideas gained with other professionals in an academic environment.'

Those who had been sent overseas included the front office manager, who went to the United States for training, various management grade staff, who were sent to the Cornell University campus in Singapore, and the hotel manager, who went to Belgium and other countries.

'Our commitment to training our leaders allows these new skills to be filtered down through to the rank and file of the organisation, creating a better knit team and a business environment that is seen to move with the times.'

According to a Hong Kong Hotels Association survey, the higher the level of the employee, the higher the level of expectations for academic qualifications.

'Nowadays, employers expect people holding higher positions to have higher academic qualifications, such as bachelor's degrees, because we need them to lead a team,' said David Wong, Hong Kong Hotels Association head of the education and training sub-committee and the human resources development committee.

'They need to understand management concepts to lead a team well. They need to be innovative and able to think outside the box. From my personal experience, many executives would now be holding a master's degree. It seems to me that this will become a trend. Some general managers even hold PhDs.'

While someone aspiring to a management position or higher should consider a bachelor's degree, it is unclear whether a postgraduate qualification is advisable. Some industry insiders recommend working in the field for seven to nine years before considering a return to the classroom.

'Fresh graduates should get a few years of work experience first,' said Brad Kirk, general manager of the Holiday Inn Golden Mile Hong Kong. 'It would be a waste to get a master's in hospitality if you found out that you didn't like it.'

The question of which type of degree to pursue - a degree in hospitality or in another discipline - is another contentious issue.

'I would recommend an MBA,' Mr Kirk said. 'Through normal, day-to-day operations, you are going to learn enough about hotels. What you need to do is learn more about business, and you want to be with people from different disciplines in order to get exposure to differences of opinion and to build a network with people from other industries.'

Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong offer programmes in tourism management and/or hospitality at the postgraduate level.

Chinese University's master's programme is research based and, therefore, most appropriate for those wanting to pursue a career in academia, although there is a growing trend for businesses to hire people with a research background to assume senior level posts.

PolyU's programmes tend to be more practically focused and, therefore, are preferred by those working in the industry.

Overseas, Cornell University in the United States is generally recognised as having the world's top postgraduate programme in hospitality management.