Seneca and industry discuss graduates of the future

John Walker, former dean of Humber College and George Brown College, and Angela Zigras, chair, School of Hospitality and Tourism, Seneca, at the industry think tank.

John Walker, former dean of Humber College and George Brown College, and Angela Zigras, chair, School of Hospitality and Tourism, Seneca, at the industry think tank.

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By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

TORONTO — Seneca School of Hospitality and Tourism (SoHT) hosted more than 70 industry representatives at an industry think tank Feb. 11 to help shape a new type of graduate better equipped to meet the needs of the future.

Trudy Parsons, director, workforce development at Millier Dickinson Blais, a national economic development consulting firm, told the group that often the talents and skills of the people in a certain region don't align with what local employers need, and the challenge is how to create opportunities and provide the students of tomorrow with what they need to succeed in a constantly changing world.

To show what's changing, she gave the example of her two- and a half year-old granddaughter, who wanted the song, The Wheels on the Bus, and showed her grandma how to find it on the iPad.

She took delegates on a journey to the hotel room of the future, where she could beam her kids' photos on the wall, change the wall colour if it didn't suit her mood, program the pillow, and have her heart rate and blood sugar monitored to make sure she was healthy. In the washroom, she could call up her schedule for the day on the mirror while brushing her teeth, or turn the wall into a computer monitor. If she didn't have time to visit attractions in the location, she could call up a virtual experience in the hotel room during the 15 minutes before she had to attend her next meeting. Instead of getting up at 5 a.m. to go to the hotel gym, a hologram could lead her in an exercise program. “Even clothing can be programmed,” she said. “Did you see the Twitter dress worn by one of the former Pussycat Dolls?”

One of the skills hospitality and tourism professionals will need in the future is lingual flexibility. “People are coming to us with many different languages. Tourism from China and South Korea is increasing both in number of visits and dollars spent. How ready are our new employees in serving these customers?” Parsons asked.

She added that in 2010, Canada spent an average of $688 per employee on training, while the U.S. spent $1,071. The Canadian figure is down from 1993, when we spent $1,116 per employee.

“Things change so fast, and we constantly need to be building or adapting,” Parsons said. “Lifelong learning is needed, and employees must be adaptable, responsible and accountable.”

Later in the morning, an industry panel looked at what will be different in the hospitality and tourism industry in 10 years.

Robin O'Hearn, director of talent management at Delta Hotels said technology will look a lot different and work spaces will be collaborative hubs, but hospitality still needs that human element. “There will be a lot of automation, and the winners will be those who strike a balance. I like that calendar in the mirror,” she said.

Donna Dooher, interim CEO of Restaurants Canada and owner of Mildred's Temple Kitchen, said the restaurant industry provides entry level jobs for people 18 to 25. Her employees are always the same age, but she continues to get older. “And the frustration gap widens …” One of the big challenges will be to work together, to understand their needs and wants, to manage their expectations and manage change.

Asked about the characteristics of the perfect job candidates, panellists mentioned knowledge of the entire travel experience and an understanding of different jobs within that industry. Said Diana Rodriguez, director, product development for Air Canada Vacations, “I expect applicants to know what they're applying for. If someone talks to me about the airline, not Air Canada Vacations, they've lost me.”

“Restaurants are becoming gatekeepers of customers' well being,” Dooher said. “We're in charge of healthy, informed dining, and we need to set the tone for [those who are new to the workforce]. We make people happy — that's the most important thing! A number of young people are coming out of college and university who have never had a job. Some have a born-to-the-manor attitude. We need to manage their expectations.” She called on the colleges to help ensure students have work experience.

The delegates broke into round table discussions to look at SoHT's vision and promise, including a service leadership culture; to discuss desirable characteristics of SoHT graduates and to look at possible new names for the School of Hospitality and Tourism.

Stay tuned for the results.