Part 3

by Egi Gaisie

This article sets the tone for our next series which shifts our focus from students to delivery processes in hospitality and tourism education and training and showcasing selected hospitality and tourism educational and training institutions.

Prof. Ishmael Mensah, my guest, is a Professor of tourism and hospitality management at the University of Cape Coast and Ghana Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Cape Coast. He holds a PhD Tourism degree from the same university and is a Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE) by the American Hotel and Lodging Association as well as a Member of the Institute of Hospitality (MIH). He is the Editor-in-Chief of the African Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

HOST: Welcome Prof. Mensah. It’s an honor to host you on this platform. As you may have observed in my earlier posts this year, I have tried to ascertain the commitment of students studying hospitality and tourism. Many hospitality and tourism graduates pursue employment in other better paying industry upon graduation. While on the one hand I find it disheartening, I realize that this problem is not unique to Ghana; on the other hand I find stories such as shared about Audrey Swatson and other women pilots quite encouraging. What are your thoughts on these points, briefly?

PROF. MENSAH: Yes generally, the hospitality industry has some of the worst conditions of service globally mainly as a result of the nature of most of the jobs; the pyramid effect, where most of the jobs are at the lower echelons and very few well-paid top executive positions. Often the wages are not commensurate with the difficulty of the job. It is not only in Ghana. So many graduates of hospitality management don’t end up working in the industry. However, some people are very passionate about the industry and are prepared to brave the odds, like Audrey Swatson who will go to great lengths to pursue their passion.

HOST: In relation to working conditions, in places like the U.S. where it is customary to tip service providers, many employees rely on tips to boost their wages. Unfortunately, in Ghana, we are not known for tipping.

Before we delve deep in our discussions perhaps you can share with my readers how you found yourself in the tourism and hospitality industry and what motivated you to pursue your education in the same area of interest to this level.

PROF. MENSAH:I will say I found myself in the industry by accident. My first attempt to secure a job in the hospitality industry was a failure. However, in 1996 when I gained admission to UCC as an undergrad, guess what, I was offered B.Sc. Tourism. The course was being introduced then, some of us who could not get our first choices were instead offered the new programme. Initially, I protested but with time, I accepted it and pursued it with all diligence.

HOST: That’s interesting. Do you have any regrets?

PROF. MENSAH: Not at all, as fate would have it, my life took a good course and here I am today.

HOST: Good to know! I put up a teaser in my post of 4th April 2021 PURSUING HOSPITALITY EDUCATION AND TRAINING: DO YOU CARE? I put up a teaser in my post of 4th April 2021 PURSUING HOSPITALITY EDUCATION AND TRAINING: DO YOU CARE? I think we all need to put our hands on deck; industry, educators, related professional associations and obviously, government. What are your views?

PROF. MENSAH: I agree with you 100%. Hospitality education should not be the preserve of only educators. Infact, for us to train hospitality professionals with the requisite competencies, who are well suited for the industry, all stakeholders have to be on board. All stakeholders should play their respective roles. Government should provide the necessary policy framework and resources, industry should partner with educators by providing practical training in the form of internships, mentoring schemes, guest lectures etc., I think there hasn’t been enough engagements between industry and academia and the end result is that academia is churning out graduates who don’t meet the expectations and requirements of industry. We have to bridge that gap.

HOST: I have heard about bridging the gap between academia and industry on various forums. I’m wondering what it would take to take the bull by the horn.

PROF. MENSAH: Academia and industry must reach out to each other. To achieve this, we need a bridge. It could start with academia consulting industry in the design of their curricula.

HOST: Back to our discussion on students; that is students pursuing hospitality and tourism in our tertiary institutions. Although we hear quite a lot about the tourism and hospitality industry in Ghana, it is not as vibrant as the news put out; I may be biased, perhaps because of being in the industry all my working life and I have some expectations in hospitality and tourism education and training which we as a country have not quite grasped. What are your thoughts on the role of major stakeholders influencing students’ level of interest and deepening their passion for the industry?

PROF. MENSAH:  The media is interested in what they consider newsworthy; sometimes, sensational news. Media reportage has focused on the successes chalked by the industry, including tourism receipts, the attractions and the politics of tourism. The media has not projected the career prospects and successes in the industry. As a result, students continue to have a negative perception of careers in the hospitality industry and are not keen on careers in the industry. The industry is unattractive as workers are confronted with a lot of challenges including; a poor image and remuneration, improper placement in the organizational structure, lack of career progression and growth as well as odd working hours. COVID-19 has worsened the situation as the industry has declined by between 60-80% creating fear and anxiety about the future job prospects for hospitality and tourism students. This is where professional associations have to come in and allay the fears of students and inject some passion into them. Professional associations should provide mentoring and career guidance programmes for students.

HOST: You have hit the nail on the head!  Creating a consistence awareness of a presence of a Professional association and a quarterly or half yearly publication on the industry would be very useful. There is a growing information gap which needs to be dealt with. I’m glad we are having this discussion. Hopefully the blog would be showcasing some of our institutions from vocational to tertiary level.

From where you sit, a Professor in hospitality and tourism education, what makes students adult learners?

PROF. MENSAH:  An adult learner or, more commonly, a mature student, is a person who is older and is involved in forms of learning. Adult learners fall in a specific criterion of being experienced, and do not always have a high school diploma. In effect students become adult learners when they are studying on the job after formal education or when students enter the training institutions as mature students.

HOST: How much cognitive information processing should be occurring in our tertiary institutions as against vocational institutions?

PROF. MENSAH:  I have heard many people especially industry players complaining about graduates from our tertiary institutions, that they lack the specific skills required by the industry. I will agree to some extent. To appreciate the situation better we have to know the difference between university education and vocational training. Tertiary education seeks to develop the intellectual capacity of the individual and to equip them with problem-solving and analytical skills. However, vocational training prepares students with specific skills for work. University education is for middle to upper-level management staff while vocational training is for lower and operational staff. I expect a university graduate to be able to tackle complex problems even beyond the domain of his/her discipline.

HOST: While I agree with your stance on making this significant distinction, you know that the hospitality and tourism industry is such that often Managers, particularly of small operations need to roll up their sleeves to work with operational personnel in addition to playing their managerial role. Our facilities are generally small and the willingness of Managers to roll up their sleeves generally leads to building a cohesive team. Should we then expect graduates from technical universities to exhibit more of this? 

PROF. MENSAH: Yes, they should, but for them to able to roll up their sleeves, the training they receive in the lecture rooms and labs may not be enough. In addition, they need practical training especially through internships and more importantly, the right attitude. No matter the skills and competencies that they have, if they have a bad attitude, they will not be willing to roll up their sleeves. That is the problem with some of our graduates.

HOST:  Hotels in Ghana are rated from budget level to 5 star rated. The majority may be found within budget and one star. Before the coronavirus, most of these were under-performing. With the challenges the industry is facing now, do you foresee graduate hospitality and tourism students challenging themselves partnering with and lifting up the industry?

PROF. MENSAH:  I believe hospitality graduates will be willing to contribute their quota towards the revival of the industry post-COVID if they are given the opportunity. The reality on the ground however is that the budget to 1-star hotels that are struggling usually don’t employ the services of hospitality graduates. They prefer to go for cheap labour and cut down their operational costs. For the few that employ these graduates, they don’t give them the free hand to operate. Many times, the graduate manager has to succumb to the dictates of the owner, sometimes with dire consequences.

HOST: You know, I have always wanted to see a group of hospitality graduates form a team to develop proposals to sell to the hospitality industry. Who won’t buy a viable proposal? As individuals, I see most of new graduates acting as though they are intimidated by industry; whether as individuals or as teams, they should be assertive enough to push through the system although there are many challenges. 

In the absence of graduate hospitality and tourism students taking up the above challenge, would hospitality and tourism departments within our tertiary institutions seize the opportunity to pursue income generating activities from such businesses?

PROF. MENSAH:  In some cases, we have been consulted by hotels and some other operators. As an academic institution, we don’t only teach we also conduct research and offer consultancy services. So my answer is yes, however, I don’t see this as an opportunity, we have a corporate social responsibility to assist with the recovery efforts. However, it is also important to point out that a problem diagnosed, is half solved. This is where research comes in. Unfortunately, our industry seems to be suffering from research fatigue. Some of us have tried to study the impact of COVID-19 on hotels so that we could recommend appropriate strategies towards recovery but the high level of non-responses has thwarted our efforts.

HOST: I do empathize with industry. Considering the small and usually slow and seasonal nature of their operations it can be frustrating giving out information and not receiving adequate help to enhance operations. 

Covid-19 has generally forced education to go remote. Many educators have subsequently plunged themselves experimenting on different digital teaching/instructional formats. I have come across terminologies such as ‘hybrid learning’, ‘blended learning’, virtual reality and gamification among a few more others. Kindly explain in very simple terms these and other formats you think we should become familiar with.

PROF. MENSAH: Yes, so before COVID-19 lectures were delivered through face-to-face encounters between students and lecturers. As a result of the need to socially distance whiles delivering our courses, online/remote teaching formats were rolled out including “synchronous/asynchronous online learning”, “blended/hybrid learning”

Synchronous online learning requires the instructor and all enrolled students to interact online simultaneously. Similar in some ways to a webinar, participants interact through text, video or audio chat. Synchronous learning environments enable students to participate in a course from a distance in real-time.

Asynchronous online learning does not take place in real-time. Students are provided with content and assignments and are given a time frame to complete course work and exams. Interaction usually takes place through discussion boards, and blogs. As a result, there is no class meeting time. Asynchronous online learning environments are effective for students with time constraints or busy schedules.

Blended/hybrid learning: Hybrid courses, also known as blended courses, are learning environments that allow for both in-person and online interaction. Typically, students meet the lecturer in person several times during a semester and this is complemented by computer-based communication in between those face-to-face sessions.

HOST: There you go! Thanks for the tutorials. Is there a likelihood of lecturers/professors losing control over the teaching process as a result of digitalization?

 PROF. MENSAH: I don’t think lecturers are losing control. However, they are constrained. Virtual/remote learning has its challenges. Because the lecturer and the student are not collocated, control and participation by students cannot be the same as face-to-face interactions. For instance, some students don’t show up for virtual classes and it becomes difficult to fish them out especially if you are dealing with large classes. Some students don’t log in with their real names and do not switch on their cameras to show their faces. Sometimes students log in and don’t listen to the lecture. There have been several occasions when I have called a student to answer a question and there has been no response though they had logged in. Also, there is a limit to teaching a practical course, where the lecturer has to demonstrate and ensure that students acquire certain skills. Yes, the lecturer can show videos and let students do some simulations but the impact is not the same as face-to-face lectures. On the part of students, there is a problem with access to devices like smartphones and internet connectivity.

HOST: To appreciate the efforts of hospitality and tourism educators, what common challenges are they confronted with in this growing e-learning environment?

PROF. MENSAH: Usually to succeed at eLearning, you need a comprehensive and robust platform that has been customized to the specifics needs of students, lecturers and the training institutions. For instance, in UCC (University of Cape Coast) we have the moodle platform and UG (University of Ghana) has the Sakai Platform. The problem is some of these platforms have not been well developed to address the full needs of students and lecturers. Also, students have not been well trained on the use of these platforms. Many lecturers are using eLearning tools like google meet and zoom which have not been properly integrated into the school’s eLearning environment. There is also the problem of lack of learner motivation.

HOST: Talking about Moodle Platform and Sakai Platform, I see I have to take some lessons here too. There is no end to learning! That’s why I appreciate academia.

Part 2 of this discussion is a brief on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

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