Community targeted recruitment in India’s hotel sector

employment in india hotels

Mr.Manjunan serving food in the restaurant at ONV. By Ganesh Mathu

New research by the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development looks at how Indian hotels can improve recruitment and training to help marginalised individuals from local communities access employment. 

The report case-studied four hotels in Southern India that employ individuals from under-represented groups (such as local and marginalised communities) through unique recruitment and training programmes. Here's a synopsis of the findings by Chris Gale, Porject Manager City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development.

The tourism industry has weathered the global economic slowdown, with reports suggesting that it now employs more than 255 million people across the globe as it continues to expand into new frontiers in the developing world. But with success comes fresh challenges. One particular issue is how to ensure that local communities are the beneficiaries of tourism growth through access to employment and work-related training.

In this context the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development explored the experiences of three hotels in Kerala and Karnataka in Southern India, and found that their community targeted approach offers practical examples for the wider industry.

Social issues

Some of the biggest challenges experienced by the hotels stemmed from social issues. In general, local employees prioritised family and community concerns above their work responsibilities, leading to different expectations from management about work behaviours such as punctuality, attendance and time off. We believe that induction programmes could better incorporate discussion about expectations to manage conflicting expectations, and to align business processes and policies more closely with local community practices.

Another issue that management had to address was caste-based discrimination which is still common in rural India. From the start, the hotels introduced measures to prevent social conflicts spilling over into the workplace; firstly by making sure that senior staff lead by example, and secondly by providing opportunities for different social groups to interact informally through eating and socialising, group training, and team-working.

Our research also found that women encounter specific social barriers to employment in tourism. In particular, women employees talked about being stigmatised by common perceptions that hotel workers are promiscuous. The impact of the prejudice is so serious that some of the female employees told us that they had to lie to their families about where they work.

Nonetheless, the hotels had begun to make inroads into helping women into work. In particular, gaining the support of the women’s families was an important step forward. For example, management reported good results from outreach programmes where they visited the homes of potential female employees. Another successful approach involved encouraging women to bring their parents and husbands to tour the hotel and meet the managers.

Other measures were important too, including introducing and enforcing policies and procedures on sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. We believe that the hotels could go further by exploring the possibility of more flexible working arrangements to allow women to better manage work and family commitments. Potential business benefits could be better retention rates and the cost savings connected with lower staff turnover.

Inclusive recruitment practices

Turning to recruitment practices, all the case study hotels said they successfully recruited from the local community through sharing jobs by word of mouth via existing staff. This meant the hotels could reach local villagers via personal recommendations. However, the word-of-mouth strategy often restricted roles to existing networks of family and friends, meaning that some sections of the local community were prevented from accessing employment opportunities.

The lesson learned here is that job roles should ideally be communicated via a variety of different channels, to widen the reach to different groups of individuals within the local community. Possibilities include combining the word of mouth approach with outreach programmes to community leaders and their networks, and through local institutions such as schools, local government, women’s groups, and credit unions.

On the positive side, each of the case study hotels actively hired individuals without prior qualifications. This approach eliminated a significant barrier to recruitment whereby applicants need to invest in a qualification to meet basic job criteria.  This is crucial for recruiting disadvantaged individuals from the local community because making qualifications a pre-requisite for jobs (as many tourism organisations currently do) virtually eliminates poorer communities from entry into even the lowest skilled jobs.

Employment in India

Hotel workers from Shettarapally Village. By Ganesh Mathu

Training on the job

Turning to training practices, induction programmes at each of the hotels were used to outline management expectations of staff on starting employment, as well as to begin embedding the values of the organisation from day one. This was important because the majority of staff did not have prior experience of working in a formal environment. The orientation programme provides a good opportunity to explain expectations around process and procedure, as well as professional standards and behaviours. However, we think that recruits with low levels of literacy need extra support.

Learning on the job was considered the most effective approach to training, with an incremental growth in staff responsibilities to develop skills. For example, a housekeeping trainee will be responsible for a couple of rooms, and more rooms will be added as competence grows.  External training was rarely used, and in fact was often viewed as irrelevant.

Although the on the job approach to learning was considered effective by managers, there was a desire for greater standardisation of the processes to ensure all trainees have the minimum required technical skills, and also to carve out progression routes for employees. Steps to standardise on the job training could include the development of manuals and frameworks for training.

Overcoming lack of progression

Turning to opportunities for progression, we saw limited examples where staff had been able to work their way up from entry level into more senior positions. We believe there are practical steps that could be taken to strengthen career progression. In particular, if people are able to document, recognise and acknowledge the specific skills they have developed, this can go a long way in increasing their own sense of confidence and perceived ability to progress.

Poor English language skills were considered by staff to be the single most significant barrier to career progression. This was primarily because English skills improve the likelihood of staff gaining ‘higher status’ jobs where they work directly with customers. Employer-based training programmes should consider how best to support the development of English language skills for staff.

Lack of soft skills, (such as communication skills, organisational skills, and time management), was also highlighted as a significant barrier. However, soft skills received relatively little attention from management as part of training. Ensuring soft skills needs are addressed early on in recruitment and training can help improve both performance and prospects for staff progression.

Summary

To conclude, our research shows that there are opportunities to improve the employment impact of tourism growth for local communities. To be effective there is a need to embed changes throughout hotel recruitment and training systems to ensure that local communities are able to access employment opportunities, and develop the skills required to progress within roles.

Contact City & Guilds Centre for Skills if you have any queries and download the report here.

The International Tourism Partnership operates its own community employment programme in India under Youth Career Initiative. The charity partners with hotels and training providers in locations throughout the globe to provide employment opportunities in the hospitality sector for disadvantaged youths. As referenced above, YCI believes that providing these youths with life skills is fundamental for their career progression and successful employment in top hotels and that is therefore a key part of the programme. For more information go to www.youthcareerinitiative.org

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