Creating skills in a low-skills environment

Cape Town, 22 February 2017: South Africa’s low economic growth unfortunately translates into job losses and stagnation, but the hospitality sector is one of very few industries in South Africa currently creating jobs.  With inbound tourism on the rise – as reflected in recent statistics for the year-end season – it’s clear that some businesses will be able to expand and so offer more employment opportunities.

“The majority of new jobs will be entry-level positions,” explains Benjamin Memani, Group Human Resources Director of Protea Hotels by Marriott® & African Pride Hotels. “There are plenty of people available to fill these roles.  For each new hotel, though, there are also a number of management roles, and this is where our greatest shortage lies in the country.  While it is a challenge to find the right people for these roles, it also creates a great opportunity for us to identify talent and train people up to fill these positions.”

Protea Hotels by Marriott recognised this challenge many years ago, and today it is seeing the value of its interventions.  “We developed an in-service management training programme over 20 years ago,” Memani explains.  “It was geared to produce the skilled personnel our organisation needs, and today about 60% of our senior manager and executive appointments are people who went through the programme.”

The programme, known as Accelerate, focusses on providing both practical and academic training to candidates who do not have an academic background other than a matric.  Trainees spend five years within the full programme, during which time they participate in classes towards an externally recognised qualification in hospitality management through a partnering academic institution, such as the University of Johannesburg and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. The candidates spend one full year gaining experience within the industry prior to theoretical learning by working within the hotels, They also work in a number of hotels while studying, being placed in different types of hotels so that they gain exposure to a wide range of hotels and markets.  The goal of the programme is to equip trainees with practical skills, theoretical knowledge and a broad understanding of the hospitality industry to grow into the next generation of South African hospitality leaders, opening the doors to a world of opportunity.

Memani highlights the benefit that the programme can bring to candidates through the example of a recently appointed General Manager of the Protea Hotel by Marriott Clarens.  “Karen Battaliou, the Protea Hotels Graduate of the Year for 2010, joined the Accelerate programme straight after matric, and she has risen through the ranks of the organisation quickly.  Her first appointment as a General Manager before the age of 30 is recognition both for the quality of our in-service training and for Karen herself.”

Karen’s appointment further highlights the career opportunities offered to women by Protea Hotels by Marriott.  Many senior managers today are female.

Many graduates of the programme choose to obtain additional qualifications at a later stage in their careers, often driven by the nature of the work they find themselves doing.  So, for instance, a graduate of the programme who was recently promoted into a senior role has chosen to pursue further academic qualifications in the field of marketing. Cassilda Ntsane, recently promoted to head up sales for the entire African region, explains: “A background in marketing is so valuable when one is in the sales environment.”

According to Memani, “The investment in a programme like this is not small, but the rewards are huge.  Our organisation took a long-term view when we decided to go this route, and we have seen the benefits for quite a while now.  Without this pool of experience and skills, we would struggle to provide for the strong management and leadership roles needed by Protea Hotels by Marriott.  We must be able to deliver on the standards set by our parent company, Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel chain.”

Author: Staff Reporter

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