The number of people employed in tourism in South Africa in 2019 was close to 2.88 million, according to Statisa. National chairperson of FEDHASA Rosemary Anderson says the hospitality industry must surely be one of the few industries that by its very nature enjoys employing young people and provides on-the-job training. “This is what is so valuable about our labour-intensive industry; employing youth and providing on-the-job training is the norm for us,” she says.
Anderson says one of the vital industry skills not being taught enough is the basics of what makes a great employee in the industry and what it takes to rise through the ranks.
“These are soft skills, but no one seems to be accentuating these vital attributes – a sound work ethic, honesty and integrity, enthusiasm in dealing with guests, proactively looking to improve guest experience, and the recognition that you are in a service industry and are there to serve at the guests’ pleasure,” she explains.
“There is not a shortage in trying to find highly technical skills, but there is a shortage in trying to find people with the soft attributes mentioned above, which is what they need for our industry to make our country a really wonderful place to visit,” she says.
Anderson notes that the tourism and hospitality industry is not employing the number of youth it could be employing due to red tape and bottlenecks in government departments, which do the opposite of job creation or attracting tourism to South Africa.
“Currently, our industry is employing as many young people as we possibly can, while still keeping our businesses financially viable. The youth are the employees we want, but for us to hire more, government must do what they need to do to facilitate so that we can do more training and hiring,” says Anderson.
Fresh blood needed
SATSA vice chair Rob Hetem says what is attractive for the sector is that there’s a lower barrier to entry. “I say this with qualifications, you don’t really need high-level education to get into the industry. You need an ambitious spirit, passion and flair, and experience that can be learned from mentors in the workplace.”
He says the industry needs to review and understand the capacity of tourism to provide immediate solutions for unemployment because of this lower barrier to entry. “I am not talking about high-end jobs, but rather getting young people directly into the economy through training and development, and we have those resources now.”
He says SATSA has been engaging with tertiary institutions and schools to put the flair and “sexy” back into tourism and encourage youth and scholars to look at tourism as a career opportunity.
“If people believe tourism has something in it for them, they will safeguard that as a legacy. We need to deal with matters of earnings, poverty, and crime, but that will take addressing some of these structural inequalities and ideologies – that starts at the school education level.
“We need to grow the pie, that is, increase the number of legitimate tourists, increase the spend, create space in the industry for new players, innovation, development, and new products,” explains Hetem. “That comes down to a well thought-out tourism marketing strategy that is efficient and effective.
“There’s a passive understanding that as an industry, we need to ensure the sustainability of its future to survive; that means we need to look at new and innovative ways of bringing in fresh blood to enthuse and energise the industry.”