Developing tourism industry occupational standards: A case for collaboration between industry and academia in 21st century Ireland.
Ó hAnnracháin, Ciarán.
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The hospitality and tourism industry is characterised by its dynamic and multi-disciplinary nature. Providing hospitality and tourism students with the requisite skills and competencies to meet with the demands of this complex industry has many challenges. Hospitality and tourism educators are charged with effectively meeting such demands. This extended abstract outlines the particular issues and challenges for education and training in hospitality, tourism and culinary arts and proposes that the development of Occupational and Professional Standards would facilitate the development of industry relevant curriculum. While the focus on Irish higher education discourse in recent years has been dominated by the needs of the knowledge economy, as supported and facilitated through STEM disciplines, recent government initiatives have also recognised the role of tourism in the provision of employment in the regions (Department of Transport Tourism and Sport, 2015). The review of apprentice training in Ireland has identified new disciplines to be added to the portfolio of programmes, and have included the areas of hospitality and tourism. The Expert Group for Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) has extended its research to the tourism industry through the tendering of a project on future skills needs for the sector. While the initial remit was on the provision of programmes at “Levels 4 & 5, with progression to Level 6” (Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Research Tender Document, 2015), identifying a gap in hospitality and tourism education at the lower end of the academic spectrum, it has become clear that the range of activities in tourism education are far broader and more complex than identified by the DJEI for inclusion in the research. This is understandable given the focus of industry representative bodies on the entry level culinary positions in policy discourse. However, both initiatives appear to underestimate the important and significant contribution that the Higher Education sector make to the provision of skilled personnel for the industry, as well as the executive education and research provided by these same institutions. An alternative proposal for research and collaboration was previously initiated by the IoT sector, following discussions with Education and Training Boards (further education), Institutes Of Technology Ireland, Qualifications & Quality Ireland and Fáilte Ireland in Killybegs in November 2013. This proposal involved a review of programme provision across a range Level 3 – 9. QQI have prepared a position paper to provide a framework for discussion. Ó hAnnracháin (2011) has critically evaluated the significant transformations which tourism education (hospitality, tourism and culinary arts) has undergone during the last decade. Since 2009, all full-time vocational education programmes offered in the Institute of Technology (IoT) sector at Level 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) have migrated to higher education programmes, with application routes via the Central Applications Office (CAO) system. Following this move, alternative vocational programmes have been proposed and supported by industry and educators alike. These programmes currently or will soon form the remit of AONTAS (adult education), Education and Training Boards, SOLAS (formerly FÁS) and the new Apprenticeship Council, as well as continuing provision through the IoT sector. The changes have occurred on an ad hoc basis, resulting in a complex and convoluted system. This structure does not provide a clear framework of the knowledge, skills and competencies that graduates of the various programmes, at Level 3 – 9 on the NFQ, should be able to demonstrate in the workplace. This lack of clarity poses particular problems for industry when recruiting staff and assessing their level of qualifications for positions within organisations. As noted by Wang and Tsai (2014) there may also be a gap between the actual competencies of hospitality graduates and the expectations held by industry professionals. Quality education and training programmes should be directly linked to the needs of the workplace and the overall economy. Occupational standards can make a major contribution to the design of such programmes. Currently there are no National Occupational Standards for the hospitality industry in Ireland. Quality and Qualifications Ireland (2013) has acknowledged that there is a dearth of occupational standards in Ireland and that a new and more coherent national approach to occupational standards is needed. QQI, in a 2014 position paper for the sector also believe that the Culinary Arts, Hospitality, and Tourism fields would benefit from the establishment of a system of agreed standards and guidelines concerning educational qualifications and occupations. Occupational standards for the hospitality and tourism industries have been established in many jurisdictions (e.g. the UK, Canada and Australia). The EQF Project (2008) has examined international best practice examples of national occupational standards within the context of adapting educational standards towards European Qualifications Framework compatibility. The establishment of occupational standards, enabling comparisons between nations would be a significant advancement towards transparency of qualifications within Europe. The rationale for developing occupational standards has been postulated by Fretwell, Lewis and Deij (2001), amongst others. Such standards are regarded as “an essential link between workplace employment requirements and human capital development” (ibid:3). There are significant advantages for all stakeholders in the adoption of National Occupational Standards. The numerous benefits include clarity, benchmarking, acknowledgement of best practice, transparency, consultation and increased productivity. This paper argues the need to develop occupational standards as a mechanism for the creation of a hospitality and tourism training and education framework. The identification and establishment of a framework of occupational standards would allow educational institutes to develop curricula that would then match with industry’s expectations on a consistent basis. This study will follow the position outlined by QQI, who stated in their 2014 position paper for the sector, that the three fields of culinary arts, hospitality and tourism present different kinds of challenges from a qualifications system’s perspective. Culinary Arts is a relatively self-contained discipline whereas Tourism is multi-disciplinary and the Hospitality field is intermediate on this spectrum. It is imperative that occupational standards are developed which are discipline specific, for example culinary arts as opposed to generic tourism industry occupational standards. Zopiatis (2010) contends that culinary arts, despite its importance is vastly under researched in terms of competencies. This research is timely given the national policy on the creation of regional education clusters (HEA, 2011, 2014) where collaboration between the various education and training bodies is required to provide a coherent education system of tertiary education in Ireland. It is clear from the extant literature that a collaborative approach between industry, academia and other stakeholders is required to ensure the sustainable development of education programmes, across a variety of levels, results in an effective and efficient system that is fit for purpose. The next stage of this project will outline a development path in terms of the establishment of occupational standards for hospitality and tourism practitioners and educators focusing in the first instance on Culinary Arts.
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