The Four Seasons Hotels group has said it is taking on a record number of apprentices at its Maldives resorts over the next twelve months – despite still facing challenges in attracting local women to work in the tourism industry.
At a ceremony held at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel in Malé this morning, 34 graduates were honoured for completing twelve month training courses in specific hospitality areas such as housekeeping and guest management, food preparation, marine transportation and watersports.
The hospitality group, which operates both the Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru and Four Seasons Resort Kuda Huraa properties in the Maldives, is taking on 60 apprentices during the next year – a company record.
Speaking at the ceremony, Armando Kraenzlin, Regional Vice President and General Manager for Four Seasons Resorts in the Maldives, said that while “interest and the ambition to learn” was growing amongst the Maldivian workforce, encouraging women to come and work was, if anything, more difficult.
“We would ask the government, help us get more girls [into the scheme] in future,” he said. “ It has got harder today than a few years ago and that can’t be right.”
While supporting the work of groups like Four Seasons in training local staff to take up more specialised positions in the country’s resort industry, one body representing Maldivian tourism workers has called on the private sector and the government to reconsider how the current curriculum prepares school leavers for a career in the hospitality industry.
From the perspective of the Four Seasons’ operations, Armando Kraenzlin today said that schemes such as its graduate programme were vital to a company continuing to try and drive innovation across its 86 hotel operations. However, he claimed the training programmes were not without challenges.
“This year we lost one member [of the graduate program] after twelve hours,” he said.
Kraenzlin said that confusion had arisen after the staff member had not realised that they had agreed not to smoke on the resort as part of their contract, a commitment the person was unable to fulfil.
However, the company claimed that with some 500 applicants looking to fill just 60 apprenticeship spaces this year – there was a clear hunger and demand for training positions such as these in the tourism industry.
“People have travelled 16 hours by boat to come to sit interviews here in Male’ with us,” Kraenzlin said, a development he claimed demonstrated the commitment of staff to obtain places on the graduate scheme.
During today’s ceremony, Four Seasons claimed that as part of this year’s graduate class, an additional discipline call “international conversations” was being taught in order to help staff communicate with an increasingly diverse customer based including guests from China, Korea and Russia.
Beyond just learning language, the company claimed the course was designed to provide an understanding of these nations’ history, culture and even cuisine.
For the year ahead, Kraenzlin said the company was also currently working on launching a prototype engineering course.
“We know that Maldivians are tech-savvy, as well as engineering-savvy,” he said.
Kraenzlin added that with the company’s graduate scheme now in its eleventh year, the program was very much “here to stay”. Yet he called on the government, represented by Education Minister Asim Ahmed in the audience, to help to strengthen the training the company provided to local workers.
“We are inviting the government to tell us how to do this better. Who knows, maybe we will have one class who makes it to the finish-line without any casualties during the year,” he said, referring to previous applicants who had dropped out from the course.
In addressing Kraenzlin’s invite, Education Minister Asim said that Four Seasons was an “important partner” in regards to education and training in the country, especially for helping to bridge skills gaps in the current curriculum.
“There is a shortage of skills in the country that is a major challenge needing to be addressed,” he said.
With tourism being one of the most significant contributors to the nation’s economy, Asim welcomed the work of resort groups such as Four Seasons in helping the ongoing development of the national work force.
“I am personally a major supporter of linking with the private sector with schemes such as this,” he said.
In addressing Four Seasons’ commitments to staff training, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM), which aims to represent local workers’ rights in hospitality, said it was ultimately encouraged by the apprenticeship programmes ran by the multinational group.
TEAM’s Secretary General Mauroof Zakir, who was himself a graduate of Four Season’s training programme between 2004 and 2005, believed such programs were a huge benefit to the local workforce.
“From my personal understanding, the Four Seasons graduate program is one of the best. When I did the programme, I really didn’t know anything about the resort industry before going in,” he said. “When I came out, I had a much greater understanding of the work environment, though I don’t know how the program has changed since.”
Despite welcoming the graduate scheme, Zakir claimed that more needed to be done by both the government and the tourism industry to provide greater practical experiences of the resort industry to school students.
“Both resort management and the government need to look at providing more practical experiences for students of resort life,” he said. “We need to look at changes to the curriculum to get more visits to resorts. School leavers should have a much better understanding of how resorts work.”
While Zakir said he was aware of several high-end multinational resort chains providing training programs for local workers, he believed many locally-owned resorts, usually targeted at more mid-market tourism, needed to do more with their respective training schemes.
TEAM said it was not presently involved in helping outline training programs, adding that it did not receive much information from either the government or industry regarding existing projects. However, with an organisational mandate to try and increase the capacity of Maldivian workers in the tourism industry, the organisation claimed it would be open to playing a role in the development of future vocational training for local people.
Female worker challenge
In addressing Four Seasons’ concerns about a short-fall in the number of Maldivian women coming to work at the country’s resorts, Zakir said he believed there were several issues affecting local recruitment of females into the hospitality sector.
“Groups like Four Seasons have been trying hard to get local women to work at its resorts. But we don’t see much improvement in the number of women workers.” he said.
Zakir claimed that more “extremist” views had been “widely spreading” around the country in recent years, creating additional social problems in encouraging female workers to come and work in hospitality.
To try and counter these messages, TEAM said that it was vital to communicate with schools and parents that resorts were not a threatening environment for women to work at.
While there had been concerns in the past involving allegations of sexual harassment against female staff, Zakir stressed that local women should not be discouraged from seeking employment on resorts.
“We need more local women working on resorts right now,” he said. “An estimated 300 to 400 Maldian women are currently thought to be working in hospitality at resorts. This is a very small amount.”
In terms of practical ways to encourage a greater number of female staff, Zakir suggested resorts could provide more regular transportation to and from resort islands as one possible solution. Such a measure, he claimed, could allow female staff to commute to work more regularly, allowing more contact with their families at home.