Like tourism industries in most developing countries, Ghana’s burgeoning tourism industry is continuously confronted with the problem of inadequacy of personnel with the requisite skills to fill some positions. While these complaints are not new, the attempts at addressing them (such as the mass training held sporadically) have not been helpful.
It is therefore heartening that Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MoTAC) has initiated steps to formulate a National Tourism and Hospitality Training Policy (NTHTP)which is aimed at guiding the training of personnel in Ghana’s tourism and hospitality industry. It must, therefore, be placed on record that we applaud the bold attempt to address this shortcoming at the wider policy level. However, we also wish to point out certain flaws in the existing draft policy document and proffer some suggestions towards improvement.
First, the policy is narrow in scope and shallow in coverage. In its present form, the policy is predicated on a rather narrow scope of training and fails to recognise other important aspects such as internships, mentorship and research. An obvious lack of depth is the fact that the policy appears to lay emphasis on technical skills to the neglect of soft skills. This is rather strange given the obvious fact that in the contemporary world greater emphasis is given to soft skills such as emotional intelligence, stress management, critical thinking, leadership and teamwork to the tourism industry.
The policy does not take cognisance of the fact that training in the tourism and hospitality industry has evolved and there is the need for the policy to be abreast with the times, as a result, issues like training in soft skills, the use of e-learning platforms for delivering courses and experiential learning have not been properly addressed by the policy.
Another symptom of lack of clear focus and internal inconsistencies can be seen in the mismatch between the stated policy objective and the specific objectives. While the policy objective for establishing the school is to upgrade the skills and competencies of lower and middle level personnel in the industry, the first specific objective is ‘to provide requisite training for eligible applicants. What is requisite training and who are eligible applicants?
It is also important to point out the incoherence in the objectives and strategies under the three policy areas. There are separate objectives for the three main strategic areas, namely human resource development, curricula development and Ghana School of Tourism and Hospitality. As a result of this, there are inconsistencies among the objectives for the three policy areas.
The objectives under ‘human resource development’ seem to suggest that training is intended for only lower and middle-level personnel. However, under the policy objective for curricula development, the main aim is ‘to offer training to highly skilled, qualified and competent personnel to manage the tourism and hospitality industry’ (this refers to top-level personnel). Such contradictions could create room for confusion and inhibit the smooth implementation of the policy.
There is the need to harmonize all the three policy strategies and have a common one since most of the strategies cut across all the three strategic areas and even beyond. Curriculum is the academic content; it is the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn. It is, therefore, surprising that the policy objective for curricula development is ‘to offer training to highly skilled, qualified and competent personnel to manage the tourism and hospitality industry’.
What sort of training will be offered and what skills or competencies are students supposed to acquire? Unfortunately, it appears the curricula development policy is not informed by a review of the existing curricula in the universities, polytechnics and other training institutions. The result is that the objectives and strategies listed under curriculum development are rather generic and not geared towards filling any skill gap. The policymakers should adopt a more scientific approach to assess the skills gap and to review the curricula of training institutions.
Moreover, the document appears to have been driven by some factual inaccuracies and rather weak data. The NTHTP is not the product of a wide consultative process as suggested in the document. Conversely, it appears to be a rushed document which did not benefit from the rich and informed inputs of key stakeholders. The tourism industry is inherently multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional. It is one industry that transcends different industries and disciplines. Therefore, in the formulation of a training policy, it is imperative to recognize the sheer diversity of stakeholders and the complexity of issues that would have to be addressed in arriving at a policy that truly meets the needs and aspirations of stakeholders.
The policy draws inferences on skills gaps without any solid empirical support. The result is that the policy is unable to identify any particular skills gap in the industry. In the section of the document subtitled ‘state of skills in the tourism and hospitality industry in Ghana’ no skill is listed, rather, occupations, some of which cannot be considered as core tourism/hospitality occupations (e.g. pest control, horticulture and gardening). Skills are abilities or capacities to accomplish certain tasks which are acquired through training or carrying out certain activities. They include technical, cognitive, organizational, customer service, communication and interpersonal skills.
It is also worth indicating that the data given is quite dated. For example, the authors chose to present the 2014 figure on tourism levy accruals when they could have put in a little effort to acquire at least the 2017 end-of-year figure. Some of the objectives and strategies are rather unrealistic. For instance, the fifth strategy under Human Resource Development appears to be based on the premise that labour turnover in the industry will reduce once people are trained. Ironically studies have shown that there is a greater tendency for employees to defect for better options even within the same industry when they are trained.
Again, it appears the crafters of the policy failed to take cognisance of the existing context, namely, the structure and peculiarities of the tourism industry in Ghana. As the policy document rightly points out, the industry in Ghana is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Thus, there is a limit to the number of graduates who could be absorbed by the industry because most of the SMEs cannot afford these graduates and are generally reluctant to invest in their employees.
Coupled with this fact is the reality that the industry is characterised by the high cost of operations resulting in low-profit margins as well as seasonal fluctuations in demand. Under such circumstances, the implementation of even the most attractive training policy will be hindered unless some effort is made to address the broader structural issues. Such issues could be addressed by a tourism development policy which Ghana lacks. A policy which seeks to train more people than the industry could absorb will rather create more problems instead of addressing them.
The policy’s implicit assumption that the establishment of a hotel school holds the key to addressing all the human resource challenges of the industry can best, be described as wishful thinking. At any rate, it is not clear what the proposed NTHTS will be doing differently from the five public universities, eight technical universities, two polytechnics and dozens of private training institutions offering hospitality and tourism-related courses.
Even in countries where very well-organized and resourced hotel schools exist, such schools have not been able to fully meet the training needs of the industry. A case in point is Kenya, where UtaliiCollege, which was established some 47 years ago and still remains one of the best hotel schools in Africa, has not succeeded in meeting the training needs of the Kenyan industry.
The result is a mushrooming of middle-level tourism and hospitality training schools in the country, compelling the government to institute guidelines for the registration and accreditation of hospitality and tourism training institutions. Wouldn’t it be more economically prudent, to rather resource the existing institutions? The existing institutions have the structures and human resources which could be complemented with the needed infrastructure and teaching resources.
Though the policy document indicates that training institutions have not been able to fill the gaps in training efficiently and effectively, it appears the training institutions were not adequately involved in the formulation of a policy that will help to address the problem. There is no clear attempt to bridge the gap between graduate skills and the skills required by industry. The end result is that academia continues to produce graduates whom industry and policymakers regard as ‘unfit’.
Though the authors of the policy document have indicated that the NTHTP is a product of a wide consultative process, it is apparent that there was no broad consultation of, especially academia in the formulation of the policy. The Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management of the University of Cape Coast (DHTM-UCC) which has been a frontrunner in tourism and hospitality education in Ghana was not consulted.
This does not help to address the issue of lack of industry-academia collaboration which the policy document identifies as one of the major challenges. It is important to note that DHTM-UCC has trained personnel at all levels from certificate to PhD in tourism and hospitality management. Today, many of its products are occupying key positions in the industry. While we do not claim to be the sole repository of knowledge in these matters, we certainly have at least 15 years of experience which cannot be ignored.
Finally, the format of the document is problematic. A policy document should normally have a clear purpose or policy statement which drives the entire policy. In addition, it should have some guiding principles, and the roles of key stakeholders such as training institutions, tourism businesses, National Accreditation Board (NAB), National Board for Professional and Technical Exams (NABPTEX)and the Ghana Tourism Authority should be clearly indicated.
It is also important to note that policies are guidelines which guide a course of action. It is therefore not necessary to put copious action plans in a policy document as has been done on pages 16-18 of the draft document. Rather, future plans relating to training by various stakeholders should be guided by the policy. A policy document is not a report. As such, it is inappropriate to report interactions with stakeholders. The entire document is riddled with a number of grammatical errors, incomplete statements and plagiarised texts. Even a cursory glance through the document indicates that it was not well thought out.
We wish to suggest that the document is subjected to thorough proofreading. Additionally, there should be a re-ordering of the specific policy areas by first, presenting curriculum development, followed by the development of the School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH), before professional development.
To make the policy complete, the purpose of the policy as well as the guiding principles and the role of stakeholders such as training institutions, National Accreditation Board, MoTAC, GTA, GHATOF and District Assemblies should be clearly stated. We also call for a national tourism/hospitality training needs survey to serve as a source reference point for such a very important policy.
Such a study will provide very important information about the existing skill levels and gaps, various syllabi being used, the number of persons being trained, among others. We further suggest that the idea of yet another national training school be shelved and rather, HOTCATT should be revamped and allowed to run short-term professional courses for industry persons.
While this is being done some already existing institutions (at all levels) can be supported to upgrade their capacities (staff and facilities). The policy should incentivize training by tourism and hospitality businesses through tax reliefs and other suitable incentives. Government must through policy intervention, create a platform which brings itself, academia and industry closer together to collaborate towards bridging the gap between industry expectations and graduate competencies.