Hospitality Industry’s Achilles Heel, Skilled Human Capital

Quality talent is difficult to come by in Ethiopia's hospitality industry, exasperating customers of high-end establishments. Gaining hands-on experience will enable new graduates to address real service problems. Hoteliers and restaurateurs should likewise invest in the additional training to get them to acquire advanced skill-sets, writes David Desta (, a Cornell University graduate from the School of Hotel Administration who has been working in Ethiopia with Kuriftu Resorts for the past several years.

It is not uncommon to hear travellers to Ethiopia appreciating the genuine friendliness and hospitality of Ethiopians. However, when it comes to providing consistent quality of service, many businesses fail to impress or go beyond the expectations of their guests.

Hotel and restaurant review websites are the new medium in which establishments learn about the experiences of their patrons. These channels – such as TripAdvisor or Facebook – allow businesses to make decisions based on relevant information. If one was to read customer experiences on Ethiopian establishments, they would find comments that applaud an establishment’s physical attributes but ultimately complain about inadequate standard of services.

The lack of skilled labour is a huge reason for this. Quality talent is difficult to come by, something hoteliers or restauranteurs in Ethiopia are not shy to hide. Many people believe that having a degree or qualification is enough to deem a candidate worthy of a position, but this is quite the contrary. Experience is one of the key components that sets many candidates apart.

Many international hospitality graduate programmes not only require their students to complete courses but also to obtain mandatory practical experience through internships or summer employment.

And some hotel administration degrees require students to obtain practice credit before graduating. Through 800 hours of work in the hospitality industry, students at Cornell University can apply classroom theory into real-world practice, gaining invaluable experience while building their resume. The objective of the work requirement is to ensure that a student’s education has the essential balance between theory and practice.

Situational experiences while on-the-job will enable new graduates to address real service problems and become familiar with customers’ desires and requests. By sitting in a classroom and studying theory, it is highly unlikely that one would be able to simulate the social encounters and tasks that might arise in a hotel or restaurant. The experience they get while simultaneously pursuing their degree will essentially be a training programme and become more attractive in the job market.

Employers are complaining that it is difficult to pull together candidates for new hotels. The limited number of hospitality graduates or qualified individuals makes it difficult to fill the necessary positions in various businesses. When it comes to determining the source of human capital, the Ethiopian labour market is a pleasant opportunity for hotel and restaurant owners alike.

With an estimated potential labour force of 52 million people, the Ethiopian labour market is attractive. A stunning 64pc of the Ethiopian population is also under the age of 24, according to last year’s CIA World Factbook. Soon, many of these young adults will seek employment opportunities throughout the country. By using the economic-driver of tourism, it will be possible to build a qualified local workforce for the industry.

However, a limited number of institutions offering hospitality training and graduate programs is a significant weakness for the sector.

The creation of an institution that provides education, training, and employment opportunities in the industry can help address this issue. By providing educational and vocational training opportunities, this system can prepare young adults to become the next generation of hospitality managers and leaders in Ethiopia.

The Catering & Tourism Training Institution (CTTI), a training centre steered by the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, is one of these entities tasked with producing skilled human resources. They have developed a ten-year agenda to improve the capacity and quality of their graduates, but with the increasing number of new properties in the country, it will be difficult to handle the supply on its own.

Some hotels have gone as far as creating their training programmes and schools. Capital Hotel, for instance, opened a school adjacent to the hotel to solve their staffing issues. But these schools and programmes are expensive, and many Ethiopians are unable to cover tuition fees or meet enrollment requirements.

In Cambodia, a non-profit organisation, EGBOK, provides underprivileged youth between the age of 18 to 22 the education, training, life skills, and leadership tools to become hospitality professionals. They have forged relationships with 86 hospitality companies in the region and 595 of their students have completed the preliminary phase of the programme and obtained jobs with prominent hotels in their area.

A programme of similar nature can be implemented here to allow youth to find stable jobs and earn adequate incomes during this pivotal phase of their lives.

There are indications of a will to change. This week, the Addis Abeba Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) hosted its inaugural hospitality job fair and introduced the concept of the Addis Abeba Hotel Owners Academy (AHA) – a programme that will help deliver customer-oriented employees that have a passion for providing service. With hands-on, competency-based training programmes and modern facilities, the academy will offer short-term courses, undergraduate, and post-graduate certificates.

Despite these positive advances in education and capacity building, hoteliers and restaurateurs will still need to focus on motivating their staff to avoid high retention rates. Retention rates at local hotels are notoriously high, with staff poaching a widespread practice and disgruntled employees leaving for better pay.

Employees that feel neglected and fear a lack of promotional opportunities are more likely to seek employment at another hotel. The enticing offer of higher remuneration packages and other benefits lure many individuals to leave their existing property.

For this reason, it is vital that hospitality managers and owners consider incentivising employees with non-monetary benefits that add value to their livelihood and personal growth. Non-monetary perks like recognition, additional training, and empowerment have proven to make a differences in employee morale and pride.

Who does not want to be recognised for their arduous work?

A simple employee of the month programme will allow members of the staff to commend each other and strive for personal growth. Another idea is to implement job rotation or job diversification to get staff out of a constant loop of repetitive tasks and learn more about the rest of the business. They will obtain a diverse set of skills and become more versatile employees.

A familiar paradox that I have observed is that managers and owners want their staff to have advanced skill sets and attributes, but they are unwilling to invest in the additional training to get them to that level. By focusing only on the bottom-line, they forget that the staff are the core of any business. They are the ones customers interact with and set the tone of the guest’s experience. A small investment might be able to take the customer service experience to the next level.

A lot of people overlook human resource practices, when in fact, good practices can help a business in many ways. It is the responsibility of managers and owners to promote wellness and help employees make the right decisions and grow as professionals.

As J. W. Marriott, the founder of Marriott Hotels, said, “If you take care of your people, your people will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself.”

By David Desta
David Desta (, a Cornell University graduate from the School of Hotel Administration who has been working in Ethiopia with Kuriftu Resorts for the past several years.

Published on Feb 17,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 929]



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