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Interviews

"Make sure you exceed expectations of your current role consistently as you plan for your new role." Wouter Hensens Stenden South Africa

In our special Hospitality ON issue on hospitality management schools and trainings (No 308-309/May-June 2021) we interviewed Academic Directors of renowned hotel schools around the world. Here we unveil insights from Wouter Hensens Executive Dean of Stenden South Africa.

What innovations, programmes and projects have been implemented in your school over the last two years?

In 2019 we have started the implementation of Design Based Education in our curriculum. This is an extension of our already innovative methods of Problem Based Learning and Case Based Learning where students work together in small groups to construct knowledge in a Real World setting. With Design Based Education we take this a step further and work with industry partners to expose students to real world dilemma’s that they have to find solutions for, test these solutions, get feedback, and optimize them. With the implementation of Design Based Education, we find that we make the gap from study to work even smaller.

Due to the COVID-19, we have implemented different online learning and assessment platforms and methods to ensure that we could continue our teaching and learning. This has worked so well that we have decided to apply for accreditation for full online studies at Stenden South Africa. We hope that this accreditation will be in place within the next 24 months. This will provide unique opportunities for hospitality professionals in Africa that want to study towards a bachelors degree, but cannot do so full-time.

What approach(es) has your school chosen to train its students? What are the specificities of your schools?

Our philosophy is that the student should drive the learning, and that students learn better when they are learning from each other in a real world context.

We therefore work with Problem Based Learning, Case Based Learning, and Design Based Learning throughout the program to make sure that learning is challenging, fun, and directly linked to the professional challenges of the industry.

Also in terms of operational skills, we like to bring our training as close to the real world as we can. We therefore operate our own 4* boutique hotel (www. mypondhotel.com) where students train their operational management skills. In year 1 students spent 9 weeks in all departments to learn all the basic skills involved in a hotel operation. In year 2, students come back for 4 weeks to train as a student supervisor. They are now required to look after a small team of first year students and are exposed to the role of supervision. In their 3rd year, students train for 4 weeks as a student manager. They may now choose which department to specialize in further and are responsible for the day to day management of this department. Of course all of this happens under the guidance of a team of experienced practical instructors as the hotel receives real guests with high expectations.

Has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the students interest in the hospitality industry?

Not really. Although the hospitality industry has been affected more than most other industries, I think it is clear to everyone that after this Pandemic, people are going to be more keen to travel than ever and we may very well see a tremendous travel boom. Especially in Africa there is a clear skills shortage in the hospitality industry which provides excellent opportunities especially for students who study towards a managerial role. We already see a clear pick up in the market and many organizations recruiting talent to ensure they are ready as travel starts to recover.

What values / skills do you think are necessary for the hospitality industry that should be taught in a hotel school?

Besides all the technical and operational skills required which most hotel schools teach, we find that especially the so-called 21st century skills drive career success.

These include:
 The ability to communicate effectively,
 The ability to work successfully in teams,
 The ability to solve problems that are new or unique.

We find that our ‘social constructivist’ teaching methods of Problem Based Learning, Case Based Learning, and Design Based Education, combined with Real World training in our learning hotel creates these skills very well and gives our graduates an edge over those from other hotel management schools.

At the same time, being value driven, integer, humble, and hard-working are timeless traits that continue to be important to be successful in the hospitality industry.

What do you think hoteliers need to do to attract & keep young talent?

I believe the current generation of talent is very focused on the ‘why’ of organizations and whether these organisations really look after their employees. Talent wants to know what the company stands for and this needs to be consistently practiced on a day to day basis.

In terms of looking after employees, I believe that being noticed, invested in and growing are the key things that talent looks for. They want to be more than a number, they want to feel that the company recognizes their ambitions and has active discussions and pathways for them to grow. I believe it is a misconception that salary retains talent. The opportunities to grow and continue to develop are typically much more important for young talent. The moment that they feel that they are stuck and the company takes them for granted, is typically the moment that start looking elsewhere. What companies can therefore do to retain young talent is invest in their growth by having regular development meetings to reflect on how the employee has been growing and developing and listen to what their ambitions are.

What features/partnerships are you looking for?

We are privileged to work with the leading hospitality groups in Africa and beyond. We have an active Advisory Board that represents most hotel groups on the continent and we meet with them twice a year to learn how we can further enhance our curriculum, teaching methods and specializations to give our students the best opportunities in the industry. We select our industry partners based on their values, and whether they provide challenging internship and employment opportunities for our students.

What message would you give to hoteliers?

To attract the best talent, be the best employer when it comes to nurturing and growing talent. Practice what you preach and make time to listen to young talent in terms of their experience in your hotel. When you take a genuine interest in their development, you will experience strong loyalty and commitment in return. Make time to give positive, but also constructive feedback regularly to give them a sense on how they are doing now whilst having realistic conversations on what is required from them to grow further in your organisation. However, the crisis has exposed several weaknesses that hoteliers need to work on in the future. They should strengthen their financial reserves and improve their managerial style and organizational structures so that they can react flexibly to unforeseen situations. Hiring young, motivated talent, trusting in their skills and decision making capabilities will ensure a hotel can survive even tough times.

What message would you give to future generations?

Wouter Hensens: The hospitality industry is a wonderful industry with excellent opportunities for career growth, however, all hotels are not equal. Find a hotel or brand that reflects your values of hospitality, find a good mentor, and take responsibility for your growth.

Be the one that first puts up his or her hand to contribute to a new project, or stay longer to meet that late arrival. Make sure you exceed expectations of your current role consistently as you plan for your new role. Do not look for salary or job titles as you start out. Look for an organization that takes you and your development seriously. Is your manager really interested in you and someone you can learn from? If yes, stick around, if not, start looking for an environment where you can find this. Have high expectations of your employer, but even higher expectations of yourself. In the words of industry legend Horst Schulze: ‘Do not compromise; Do not come to work. Come to be Excellent".

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