BHTA: Skills Shortage ‘National Challenge’

Monday, 29 April 2013 00:00 News Editor
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Top tourism body urges greater collaboration and focus on quality of education and training

The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) is seeking greater collaboration with the public sector to solve a "major skills shortage" that has rapidly become a "national challenge".

In a lengthy statement sent recently to Guardian Business, the influential body echoed many of the sentiments recently expressed by Baha Mar and Atlantis. The BHTA said that there are plenty of Bahamians looking for work. The greater question, it said, is whether Bahamians have the qualifications to be valuable, long-standing contributors to the industry.

"Employers tell us that when they go through employment applications and conduct interviews, the number of qualified applicants dwindles considerably," said Stuart Bowe, BHTA president. "In most areas of our industry, technical skills and past experience, particularly for entry-level positions, are secondary considerations. Strong soft skills are paramount. We must consider the work ethic of the candidates for hire and their ability to communicate, build relationships, make decisions and to engage and relate to others in a professional manner."

The BHTA highlighted the results of a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) entitled "Analysis of The Bahamas' 2012 Wages and Productivity Survey", which noted that 62 percent of firms had an employee resign or be dismissed in 2010-2011.

The most common reason for dismissal was "problems with behavior", coming in at a whopping 65 percent. Bowe told Guardian Business that the data quantifies what employers have been saying for a long time.

"We have a major skills shortage in The Bahamas – both soft and hard skills. This is exacerbated by a high rate of turnover which according to the survey results is largely attributed to behavioral problems," he explained.

As tourism is the country's number one industry and the linchpin of the economy, the BHTA is calling the issue a "national challenge". Rather than focusing on the negatives, however, the tourism association is urging more collaboration among stakeholders.

Indeed, the top private sector employers in the country have become increasingly vocal on a perceived skills shortage. Baha Mar exclusively told Guardian Business that it would be "hard pressed" to fill the thousands of jobs opening up when the $3.5 billion mega resort opens in December 2014. Top management from new hotels at the development, such as Rosewood and Grand Hyatt, have openly expressed concern over the maintenance of service standards.

Atlantis, meanwhile, has received the most attention of late. George Markantonis, the president and managing director of Atlantis, told this newspaper that it has 200 to 300 job openings at any one time. He said that the Paradise Island resort struggles with a "skills shortage" on a daily basis.

The ongoing debate has been linked with government's apparent crackdown on work permits. Immigration officials have visited both mega resorts and detained expatriate workers last week. The incident at Atlantis made international headlines, while the corporate community worries that such actions could have negative impact on business and investment in the country.

For BHTA's part, it believes that a solution must be arrived at soon, as The Bahamas has evolved into a high-cost destination. The workers must back up the hefty price tag with service on the ground.

"The tourism industry has changed considerably in recent years. We have evolved into a higher-end destination, which means that we must consistently deliver exceptional service," it stated. "While industry standards have risen, more needs to be done to raise the quality of education and training by all public and private sector stakeholders."

JEFFREY TODD
The Nassau Guardian
Published: April 29, 2013