When anyone raises a topic about the service sector in Trinidad and Tobago be prepared for a grimacing conversation that sounds hopelessly abysmal about our workforce. I am almost certain some behavioural traits , such as: the watery “chupps”; the rolling of the eyes; the side to side head banter; the abrasive “yea” when you ask for assistance; the side look with the undertone of sarcasm; or the frog pout; have been experienced from both the public and private sector. Interestingly these antics many of which I have experienced are in my opinion homogenous across age groups, income brackets, gender, education and race.
For the tourism industry, service talent can be leveraged as a competitive advantage for a destination, however T&T is ranked low with respect to affinity to tourism by the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI). The reason as some tourism experts theorised has been based on the virtues of “Service vs Servitude”. Perhaps, this premise should have been followed up with intelligence gathering in terms of: salary satisfaction, productivity and skillsets which may have built the foundation in education and organisational transformational programs for an improved workforce pipeline.
Having said that, a research study 2016 conducted in the UK analysed service sector challenges in relation to generation gaps. The study noted that Generation X workforce in the service sector considers health / medical benefits, pension plans, good office relationships and permanent positions ; whilst Generation Y are aligned to financial incentive, salary , title/position, brand name as important for their security. The research also identified areas of weaknesses of Generation Y as demanding, pampered, lack motivation and poor work-place attitude.
It was not surprising that this research analysis seemed similar to complaints shared by the Trinidad business community at the Chamber of Commerce event on “The impact of Industrial court judgements on your business” [2016, December 16].
The hospitality and service sector is a highly labour intensive industry which business owners rely on effective communication between employees and guests. A great example of how staff sometimes communicate your product can be viewed in an online video, “Sephora employees vs Mac employees”. For the purpose of this article I would focus on small to medium (SME’s) independent properties, tour operators , restaurateurs, transportation companies , etcetera
Within the T&T network of SME’s, complaints range from: high staff turnover, low productivity, attitude issues, lack of loyalty, theft, wastage to name a few. Likewise, as an SME myself, I have had to endure issues of late coming, high absenteeism, sabotage, disrespect, delusional entitlement and the list can go on and on. Even the best talent can become emotionally distressed by the laissez faire attitude of their colleagues.
In recent times, SME’s are becoming desperate to improve productivity choosing to hire under the radar migrant workers from Jamaica, Venezuela, Guyana, Philippines, Cuba, India, Ghana, China to name a few. This grey area in the service sector business is quickly infiltrating into our system which will eventually have an impact on our tax systems, cultural integration issues, authenticity of “localness” to the destination product , etcetera. Moreover, a new concern is – What will happen to the talent pool if the migrant worker’s adopt poor work place mentality?
So the real challenge for SME’s is to take responsibility in unlocking the local talent in the workplace to improve workplace imbalances. Here are a few of my tips for 2017:
# 1. Know your Brand
Give yourself a 5 second spiel about your product then ask your employees to share their view of your product. By engaging employees with ideas and thoughts for improving the brand would also ensure that they understand your personal beliefs for a better tourism product identity. Keep at it by strengthening their intelligence in the business as it is also your employees’ story to share with the customer.
# 2. Share within your network.
Always keep track of the performance of your employees during tenure. At the end of tenure establish an Exit Interview – perhaps too late for the employee to reconsider! Exit interviews would give employers an appreciation of how the employee viewed your establishment and for them to acknowledge their contribution to the organisation. Your responsibility as an SME is to share employee’s profile within your network if there is a referral request on skill sets and abilities. Perhaps exchanging ideas on management tips, strategies, collaborative solutions in building talent pool should be addressed by your organisation.
#3. Consider a few HR best practices
SME’s are known to have poor HR management practices and this could be a reason why so many SME’s are struggling to find employees to suit their organisation. Many SME’s offer psychological contracts with employees opting to have close working relationships rather than formalities. Review your selection policy, training practices and how you would measure performance to ensure your new recruit will fit into your culture. An employee with hidden agendas would soon stick out as a sore thumb and their actions would be evident. According to Poole, ” Hiring inappropriate employee in hotel can alter the services at very rapid pace, since in hotels direct customer interaction is being conducted, hence affecting the image of the entire organisation.”
#4. Work with your local tertiary institutions
Many in the industry assume the worse with SME’s in terms of working conditions, wages, working hours, promotional opportunities and job security. By building a relationship with training institutions; such as TTHTI , Servol, UWI would help in strengthening the tourism talent. Engage the institution to understand your product and your training program so that students have clear expectations. One of the greatest opportunities for students through internship is to get a practical sense in the real world of work and whether they too can fit into the work life of the industry.
#5. Initiate training
At my last debrief with my core staff team I shared with them “communication” misnomers, suggesting that they must take responsibility with all recruits. Training is a huge investment cost for SME’s as it consumes resources in finance, time and administrative efforts. It should be noted that training does not buy loyalty to your company, rather, it supports your product. A great opportunity for most employees in small establishments is the ability to work directly with the owners themselves or with their core management team. This tremendous knowledge that is imparted is invaluable to an employee learning curve, often not recognised as it is an intangible value which has no financial costs attached. SME’s can also take advantage of free government training programs, enrol staff in small courses as a staff bonus incentive and re-tool staff internally by creating your own training sessions.
In my perspective, enjoy what you do, be happy in your space and ensure that everyday it is a livable and lively workplace environment.