Hospitality Students - Internship dilemma
This is a global issue. Opinions differ on its objective, duration, structure, monitoring mechanism,levels and areas of operation involved, stipend, working hours, treatment by the regular staff and the establishment and +ves / -ves likely to accrue during internship. High manpower turnover and lack of trained personnel is a well established fact in the hospitality industry. All stakeholders must accept it without any pretence. It is also a fact that major part of the future work force will come from the interns who train with the hotels as part of the curriculum. Who is an intern? Why did he/she choose hospitality as a career? Let us take a look at his/her background.
The general impression of students joining the IHMs is that they were (1) awed by its glamour, (2) impressed by TV Chef shows (70%to 80% at the time of admission said that they want to become a CHEF), (3) not so good in academics so they considered Hotel Studies as an easy exit from the Academic Overload and (4) few because their family were in the hospitality business. In India most of the 10+2 students appear for 3 or 4 Entrance tests for Engineering, Medical, Law, Defence – some by choice and some forced by parents. Few apply for Hotel Management as a standby arrangement and very few by choice. This is apparent from the numbers. While the numbers of applicants for Engineering, Medical, Law courses are in the range of Lakhs and increasing every year, the number of applicants for the Hotel Management courses are in the range of 15,000 and this number is either static or subject to very minor increase/decrease each year. Compare this with 14 Lakh applications for IIT JEE in 2013 alone. This actually leaves many IHMs with a lot of vacant seats in reserved for SC/ST/OBC/PH quota category as there not as many takers for the course. The students admitted under the General category, barring few exceptions, are academically “Below Average” or “Average” students having scored between 40% to 60% marks in 10+2 – some of them who have completed 10+2 in two or three attempts, some have completed 10+2 from NIOS, some have opted out after remaining unsuccessful in Engineering/Medical courses, some joined the course after attempting admission to Engineering/ Medical for one or two years and some have back papers yet to clear – some interested and some not really interested but by default in the course.. So each IHM has a mixed batch of “Below Average” or “Average” students from General category and “Walk-ins” form Reserved category.
The profile of students has undergone a sea change in past decade and half. These youngsters grew up witnessing 9/11, Norway carnage, 26/11, Madrid, Bali, Tahrir square, Jasmine effect, Anna’s movement, Saddam’s fate, Osama’s fate, Gaddafi’s downfall, Nirbhaya case, Tsunami, Katrina, emergence of FB/Twitter, CWG, 2G, Coalgate, F-1, English Football live with Hindi commentary, Modi’s rise, blue tooth, Greece economy, McD/KFC/etc.. and Starbucks entry in India, periodical tamashas in Lokshabha & Rajyasabha live– the list is endless. This generation is different. They are tech-savvy, self-absorbed, lack loyalty, impatient, however, they are knowledge workers, eager to learn their way and very creative. They live for the moment blending work with play, passion and family. As children they grew up in “Adult Free” time doing their own things and hence developed their own perceptions. They are not easily influenced by marketing, however, brand-wise. They are connected world-wide via social media based on common interests and not proximity. Even though the Urban and Non-Urban profiles differ significantly – both take travel for granted. They seek of careers with perceived higher quality of life than their parents and also look forward to higher wages.
There are differing views on the duration, construct of IT schedule, stipend and working hours of interns. Some advocate a longer period of internship at one hotel during the course of study and some think that short spells of internships at different hotels of different nature is better for student. The logic of the latter case is that intern gets a better comparative overall picture of industry and God forbid if in the first scheme if intern happens to land in an intern-unfriendly property he/she is in for a real bad time for longer duration. Difficult to decipher which is better. Shorter IT means more work for HR / Training Managers. Hotels would like opt for longer duration IT as it solves their manpower problems to a large extent. On the other hand the hotel schools also would prefer longer duration IT as it means less faculty costs and better classroom/Lab utilizations. The question is whether it is in the best interest of the intern or not. Debate continues. In many cases meagre stipend and long working hours with irratic breaks is an add-on to the woes of interns.
What happens in the IHMs before they are sent for Internship? Basics of Hospitality are introduced. Strong dose of discipline and manners is given to students. Importance of cleanliness and hygiene is stressed upon. A sense of punctuality is inculcated. Respect for seniors and faculty sets in. A sense of seriousness prevails during campus placements when the freshers see the recruiters from industry on campus and witness the signs of anxiety and nervousness in their seniors. This leads them in believing that the performance standards expected of them in industry are very high. The real metamorphosis of a student’s mind starts while the student is in first year of IHM.This also results in confusion over deciding the property in which they should try for their forthcoming Internships as there are hotels GOOD and BAD labeled informally by the seniors and mentors. Some hotels take the interns seriously, some treat them as a casual work force (usually Banquet Department being their Karma Bhoomi), some follow the structured IT schedule, some Training Managers (TM) assume that the intern will learn himself/herself from the staff once he/she is placed in a section of a department, some hotel managements see interns as a HR costs saving instruments. Some students have notions of certain hotel properties being a good training ground for a particular aspect e.g. culinary, F&B service or Housekeeping. Confusions galore but in any case students have high expectations from their internship and look forward eagerly to spending the training period constructively and learn as much as possible.
It is during the Internship that the student’s perception towards industry firms up completely. The quality of experience that a student gets during internship becomes the turning point for his possible career. That’s when he may lose self respect and get disillusioned or otherwise. Many a times the students are treated as contract laborers. During this time they are either paid a menial sum or no amount. Very often they are used as fillers for the absent regular hotel staff. That leads to odd working hours with shortest possible notice. Long working hours go without saying. They are also largely made to work overtime. It is also noticed that an intern gets no consideration for a case of ill-health or sickness. Abusive language used by the hotel staff is a revelation of HR practices. It dawns upon the 18 - 20 year old that the industry works 24X7 and 365 days. A thought prevails in the students mind that beyond cleaning, helping and serving they are considered no good for anything else. He learns that low wages compared to work put in, is the hall mark of the industry. At this stage the student also realizes that all that is taught in college is anything but management. The management component of learning is completely absent. Apart from these there may be many more reasons why a hotel management student falls out of love for the industry. These realizations makes a student feel cheated leading to disappointment and de-motivation. Parents observe that their child is getting overworked, uninterested and unhappy and may start exploring an alternate career for the student.
Post–IT the students are lost in a dizzy to adjust back to the hotel school atmosphere when they compare what they were taught and what is the practice in the industry, the latest equipment/technologies in hotels with the antiquated gadgets in the institute. They share the bad and the good stories of their IT with faculty and classmates. Information percolates through to the student community, they in turn form good or bad opinion about particular chains or unit hotels. Smart faculty take their cue and update their teaching inputs. Training Managers who attend the IT presentations in the hotel schools also benefit and make possible amends. This is the most crucial period for decision- making. Most of the interns are in the age bracket of 19 to 22 years – the formative years of their life ( make or break phase of life). This is in almost all cases their first-time exposure to the real industry. They easily either take a liking or disliking for the industry depending on the way the internship shapes up. No wonder many get disheartened and chose to drop-out or shift to other service industry segments at the first available opportunity. This is reflected very much during the final year placements when students opt out for other segments of the service industry jobs.
There was an award winning article ‘Pygmalion in Management’ in 1969 Harvard Business Review by J. Sterling Livingston. It refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, often children or students and employees, the better they perform. The effect is named after Pygmalion, a Cypriot sculptor in a narrative by Ovid in Greek mythology, who fell in love with a female statue he had carved out of ivory. The Pygmalion effect is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, and, in this respect, people with poor expectations internalize their negative label, and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. Within sociology, the effect is often cited with regards to education and social class. Hotel industry by and large gets what it deserves because of the standards it sets for the interns who happen to be its future torch bearers. If HR/Training/Department managers believe that interns are meant to be deployed in the hotel in the way they are now then the interns tend to behave in the expected mode. His title also pays homage to George Bernard Shaw, whose play Pygmalion explores the notion that the way one person treats another can, for better or worse, be transforming. In his article, Livingston notes that creating positive expectations is remarkably difficult, and he offers guidelines for managers: Focus special attention on an employee’s first year because that’s when expectations are set, make sure new hires get matched with outstanding supervisors, and set high expectations for yourself. This is equally true for interns as well. They are the future workforce of industry.
In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle (Movie - My Fair Lady)explains:
“You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you because you always treat me as a lady and always will.”
Some managers always treat their subordinates in a way that leads to superior performance. But most managers, like Professor Higgins, unintentionally treat their subordinates in a way that leads to lower performance than they are capable of achieving. The way managers treat their subordinates is subtly influenced by what they expect of them. If managers’ expectations are high, result is likely to be excellent and vice versa. Importance of managerial expectations for individual and group performance has not been widely understood. Students going for an internship in the industry are like them stepping in to a school. The Industry’s role during this period is of a Guru or a mentor, to mould fresh minds, share vision and wisdom. Students should be treated with respect and without discrimination. They must feel welcomed, evolved right through the internships. Hotels should have guidelines or policies for trainees just like what they do for their new employees. Many hotels not really put their effort to guide those trainee since they have the perception that trainee will just come and go after few months which actually not worth for them to train them. It will be better if hotels can provide on the job training checklist for trainees and assigned a buddy for trainees rather than them following everyday different senior and doing different tasks. Hotel industry do have their responsibility to cultivate the interns since they might become the next generation who continue to group up the hospitality industry in the future. Of course, hotels might have their own difficulties but then this issue is too important to be ignored and sidelined. Solutions must be found. Hotel industry must compete the same way for attracting the interns as they do for new customers – attract them, develop and retain. There is a strong case for matching the stipend with comparable allied service industry sectors. Expectations of students from IT should be adequately addressed by industry.
Everyone knows hotel industry’s growth potential in future, especially in India. Obviously, enormous quality manpower will be required to successfully run it. India will have to compete with the rest of the world on all fronts including hotel services. Under the circumstances industry has no option but to formulate certain internship norms. Formulate such norms that will maintain the dignity and ignite the feeling of evolvement for an upcoming future hotelier, as it’s the industry that will lose out on manpower, reputation and goodwill in future.