A future secured

Kuala Lumpur, 31 December, 2012 - IF great power does indeed come with great responsibility, those entrusted to reshape an entire industry would probably end up losing some sleep. 

UCSI University vice-president (Strategic Projects) Assoc Prof Dr Wong Kong Yew is one who will attest to this, albeit in less dramatic fashion. 

As president of the Malaysian Centre of Tourism and Hospitality Education, better known by its acronym MyCenTHE, Dr Wong leads a coalition of Malaysia’s leading higher education institutions – both public and private – in the effort to revamp the tourism and hospitality industry through education. 

The objective: To supply the manpower to match the industry’s projected threefold growth. In numbers, that involves graduating at least 50,000 qualified industry personnel with diplomas or degrees each year, up from the current total of 20,000. 

Even more challenging is the fact that only around 16% of industry personnel possess the minimum qualification of a diploma. 

Beneath his calm demeanour, Dr Wong – also the dean of UCSI University’s Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Management – acknowledges the nature of the challenge and its complexities. 

“By spearheading and leading MyCenTHE, UCSI University is effectively carrying the flag of tourism and hospitality education,” he mused with purpose. “We can’t be too happy less we forget the responsibilities we shoulder. 

“This consciousness, however, strengthens our resolve to constantly improve our delivery to train students to be the best in the business.” 

That same consciousness, he adds, also ensures that the university’s unique work-based learning (WBL) curriculum – used as a benchmark for all MyCenTHE members – is continually fine tuned to match the requirements and best practices of an ever-changing industry. 

Devising the curriculum took a while as extensive feedback was sought from industry players and graduate abilities were stacked up against the industry’s needs. 

The result is a dynamic two-year Diploma in Hotel Management that offers students up to 10 times the hours of industrial exposure when compared to conventional programmes. Students receive a stipend for their efforts, effectively earning and learning at the same time. 

“The WBL curriculum was designed to address the long standing mismatch between graduate capabilities and industrial expectations,” explained Dr Wong, who is also a tourism economics specialist. 

“To ensure students receive the real deal, all faculty lecturers are industry practitioners who lead by example, exposing students not only to all facets of hotel service – namely, food and beverage; kitchen operations; front office and housekeeping – but also the entrepreneurial side of things.” 

Apart from being trained in-house at Le Quadri – UCSI’s very own boutique hotel that boasts a fine dining restaurant – students may also exercise the option to obtain work exposure at one of the university’s many industrial partners. 

Prominent industrial players like Pullman Hotel, the Grand Margherita Hotel and the Riverside Majestic Hotel, among others, are collaborating with UCSI, providing students with gilt-edged opportunities to hone their skills. 

The feedback received has been positive and the industrial partners are impressed to the point where graduates of the WBL curriculum are guaranteed a job at these hotels, subject to availability. 

Even better, the two-year diploma course will count as actual work experience and WBL graduates are expected to earn around 30% more than most fresh graduates in the field. Some might even be fast tracked into supervisory positions, setting them on an enviable career trajectory. 

The world’s an oyster 

With the guarantees in place, Dr Wong oozed confidence that the industry’s vibrancy would win over the worse of doubters. 

“Ask yourself: How vibrant is the F&B sector in big cities?” he ventured. “We easily pay double or triple when compared to prices slightly over a decade ago and the price hike is not down to inflation but demand.” 

“Today, customers are willing to pay top dollar for an unforgettable experience and a unique environment. Industry personnel only stand to gain and I must say that the future is bright.” 

Speaking with his hands in enthusiasm, Dr Wong enthused that the media was also playing a pivotal role in the industry’s timely renaissance. 

The Asian Food Channel and programmes like Celebrity Chef, he said, promoted awareness that a career in the industry, or more specifically, culinary art – another diploma programme offered at UCSI University – could indeed be rewarding. 

The option for cheaper travel, he added, was another game changer as the younger generation possessed a better understanding of the industry. 

“Many students go overseas and they are exposed to first-class service,” he explained. “The people who serve you are immaculately prim and this is a far cry from the past where there was a lack of image and income.” 

Falling back on statistical data, Dr Wong pointed out that tourists were exhibiting an increasing willingness to splurge, as reflected by the quantum of money spent in the industry. Hotel rates used to make up 40% of a traveller’s expenditure but F&B expenditure now amounts to that same percentage. 

With this in mind, a career in the tourism and hospitality industry can be regarded as an exhilarating journey. 

And if the journey begins at UCSI University, one can rest assured that the map comes included.