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The Role of Employability Skills in Gaining Initial Employment for Hospitality Management Graduates in the UK

Written by Laura N.

 

Abstract

The dissertation focused on the soft and hard skills possessed by hospitality management graduates in the UK. The primary goal was to investigate the relationship between these capabilities and the employer’s perceptions of first-time job seekers. The study measured 3 indicators of employer’s perceptions, namely the time taken to find a job, the willingness to continue working for the current company and employer’s satisfaction with an applicant’s competencies. Quantitative questionnaire data was used to achieve the research objectives. The findings indicated that flexibility, marketing competencies and interpersonal skills were among the key factors that determined employer’s perceptions. The providers of educational services to future hospitality managers were recommended to design new curricula focused on the provision of these skills.

 

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1. Problem Statement

In 2016-2017, the UK hospitality sector recruited more employees than the average employment statistics for the UK economy (Figure 1). This meant that this sector reported a significant 2% growth in employment (UKHospitality, 2018). The implication was that hospitality businesses in the UK were required to recruit more staff to address consumer demands.

Figure 1: The Employment Change in the Hospitality Industry and the UK Whole Economy

Source: UKHospitality (2018, p.4)

 

The number of hospitality graduates entering employment in the UK during 2012/13 – 2016/17 varied between 13,625 and 12,785 (Figure 2). This constituted a discrepancy between the growth in employment and the transition from graduate education to being employed.

Figure 2: The Number of Graduates Entering Employment in the UK

Source: The Higher Education Statistics Agency (2018, p.1)

 

This was further supported by the Office for National Statistics (2017). This institution reported that the percentage of non-graduated employees in the UK hospitality sector was twice as high as the corresponding percentage for graduates (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The UK Graduates’ Employment Data

Source: Office for National Statistics (2017, p.1)

 

On the one hand, this disparity could be indicative of the fact that the majority of jobs in the hospitality sector were occupied by experienced professionals. On the other hand, hospitality firms could have deliberately hired non-graduate experienced workers as these possesses developed skills and knowledge of the industry. By contrast, graduates had lower employability, thus raising the issue of how exactly employability could be measured in the UK hospitality setting. That meant that the topic of hospitality graduates’ employability in the UK hospitality industry is worthy of study due to its topicality. The thesis could be of interest both to applicants and managers. Assessing existing criteria of employability may inform the job seeking behaviours of graduates and improve the efficacy of recruitment for hospitality firms.

 

1.2. Background of the Study

This section briefly establishes the key employment statistics for graduates in the UK hospitality sector. It should be noted that the UK indicator of graduates’ employment during the first three years after completing their educational programmes at universities was higher than the average for the European Union (Figure 4). The difference between the EU and the UK was equal to exactly 4%.

Figure 4: Employment Rates of Graduates in the 20-34 Age

Source: Eurostat (2019, p.1)

 

It should be underlined that in 2018 the hospitality sector placed third in the report evaluating industries in the UK according to the total employment numbers. This suggested that the size of the hospitality sector was sufficient to rival the healthcare industry and retail (UKHospitality, 2018). However, the lack of empirical evidence on how exactly employability could be measured by hospitality firms threatened the stability of employment statistics. New knowledge was necessary for graduates to find jobs and contribute to the growth of the UK hospitality sector. The background of the study, therefore, justified the aims and objectives of the dissertation.

Figure 5: The UK Industries Employment Rates (in Thousands)

Source: UKHospitality (2018, p.2)

 

1.3. Aims and Objectives of the Study

The aim of the study is to examine how the soft and hard skills of British hospitality management graduates influence their initial employment. The attainment of this goal depends on the following secondary objectives.

  1. To identify the employability skillset demanded by the hospitality industry.
  2. To establish hospitality management graduates’ perceptions of their employment within the first 3 years after graduation.
  3. To analyse how the obtained skillset of hospitality management graduates has predicted their initial employability based on self-appraisals.
  4. To develop practical recommendations for hospitality students on the soft and hard skills they need to acquire during formal education.

 

1.4. Expected Contributions and Outcomes of the Study

It is expected that this investigation could make a significant contribution
towards the existing concepts of graduates’ employability. This project was motivated by the extant discrepancies between the total employment figures in the UK hospitality sector and the employment statistics for graduates. Useful findings could be reached by studying relevant academic literature on hospitality and graduates’ employability, and by empirical data analysis.

The main practical contribution of the study is designing a new model for meeting the needs of the hospitality sector through the recruitment of graduates. The dissertation outcomes could help graduates to find initial jobs by developing relevant skills at universities and highlighting their employability. The thesis should align the interests of hospitality firms in the UK and the behaviours of job-seeking graduates, this possibly increasing organisational performance. The development of skills valuable to employability could increase job performance and job stability, thus reducing stress and diminishing employee turnover. The findings could also be of interest to higher education professionals. The outcomes could form the basis for new curricula with an emphasis on the greater employability of graduates.

 

Chapter 2: Literature Review

2.1. Introduction

This chapter of the dissertation reviews the key academic literature on the topic of employability within the hospitality sector. The analysis of relevant academic literature should lead to the creation of a conceptual framework. The research hypotheses proposed for further investigation along with the variables in the framework will rely on the extant body of knowledge presented in Chapter 2.

 

2.2. Key Models and Theories of Employability

This section is focused on key models of employability and also on the organisational effects of employability. Being a complex concept, employability has not been defined in theoretical literature unequivocally. As was underlined by Bui et al. (2019), it was challenging to formulate any commonly accepted components of employability. Nevertheless, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training proposed the following definition of employability: “a combination of factors (such as job-specific skills and soft skills) which enable individuals to progress towards or enter into employment, stay in employment and progress during their careers” (Eurofound, 2018, p.1).

The strength of this definition was in focusing on clearly measured outcomes such as career progression (Eurofound, 2018). The theory did not specifically emphasise employability for graduates. Limiting the employability definition to the context of early career workers’ activity, Ripmeester focused on a holistic attitude that accounted for individual employee’s features along with exogenous factors (Coelen and Gribble, 2019). Critically evaluating these definitions, it should be noted that the view of Eurofound (2018) did not account for external factors that might have an effect on employability, while Ripmeester’s definition suggested that employability was a process (Coelen and Gribble, 2019). This meant that the work of Coelen and Gribble (2019) had more relevance to the present empirical study.

The correlation between three indicators of young professionals’ employability (namely career success, career shocks, and career competencies) constituted the theoretical foundation of Blokker’s et al. (2019) investigation. Blokker et al. (2019) outlined statistically significant relationships (Figure 6) between the study variables. Analysing the answers of 704 responders in the 21-35 age group who filled the questionnaires, Blokker et al. (2019) concluded that unexpected events and job effects linked to employability.

 

Figure 6: Career Competencies, Career Success, and Career Shocks

Source: Blokker et al. (2019, p.180)

 

By drawing a distinction between two types of factors that had an effect on young professionals’ employability, Blokker et al. (2019) stated that positive and negative career shocks had an opposite influence on the career building process. Employability skills should include resilience to negative career shocks. Moreover, Blokker’s et al. (2019) study outcomes were consistent with Spurk’s et al. (2018) inference that an employee’s career success impacted further positive career developing. Achieving career success within the first 3 years after graduation was vital for subsequent career development, meaning that the model of Blokker et al. (2019) was relevant to the study. At the same time, Blokker et al. (2019) did not give a clear explanation of career shocks intensity and frequency levels. This meant that there existed a notable research gap on what specific challenges faced hospitality graduates, illustrating the possible contribution made by the dissertation.

Another critique was Blokker’s et al. (2019) investigation did not include any reverse relationship between the studied items. For instance, producing an effect on employability, subjective career success may be influenced by employability itself. Employability might stimulate a worker’s subjective career success. Being tangible factors, salary and promotions may impact employee’s subjective career success. The thesis argues that Blokker’s et al. (2019) scheme was too rigid when defining the statistically significant relationships between the research variables.

When discussing employability for new graduates, Zain et al. (2020) noted that a lack of employability-focused education was one of the main issues affecting this industry. The authors reported that attaining a formal education in hospitality did not necessarily boost an applicant’s employability (Zain et al., 2020). Formal education did not impart the skills that were required by employers in the hospitality sector. The topic of hospitality and tourism industry graduates’ employability included two areas namely formal education and business. From this perspective, a hospitality graduate played a mediator role between an educational institution and a firm that provided the hospitality services. Being specifically devoted to the problem of tourism graduates’ employability, Wakelin-Theron’s et al. (2018) investigation established the employability skillset demanded by the industry. It should be highlighted that this skillset was proposed as a result of investigating a three-way partnership model (Figure 7).

 

Figure 7: A Three-Way Partnership Model

Source: Wakelin-Theron et al. (2018, p.170)

 

Accounting for the features and opportunities of the three components (the tourism industry, higher education institutions and tourism graduates), this model was developed at the junction of their interests to improve graduate employability (Wakelin-Theron et al., 2018). The researchers collected and analysed 561 questionnaires. A deeper discussion was proposed to 12 academic experts, managers and owners of businesses in the tourism industry along with tourism graduates who had work experience in the hospitality sector.

The advantage of this study was in a thorough investigation of tourism graduates’ skills. Involving a wide range of specialists and young professionals, Wakelin-Theron et al. (2018) succeeded in producing a well-structured set of requirements to help graduates boost their initial employability. There also existed a strong interconnection between tourism and hospitality in the framework of the common industry (Buhalis and Sinarta, 2019). Including a three-way partnership model with a relevant skillset, Wakelin-Theron’s et al. (2018) investigation provided useful outcomes for the dissertation. Nevertheless, Wakelin-Theron’s et al. (2018) work did not differentiate between hard and soft skills. Such a division should be made due to the need for studying employability at a deeper level and proposing a holistic skillset. This limitation is addressed by the current dissertation, as its conceptual model differentiates between the soft and hard skills of hospitality management graduates.

Illustrating the validity of this literature review, other scholars also relied on the distinction between soft and hard skills. For instance, Kalia and Nafees (2019), Gibson, (2018), and Hendarman and Cantner (2018) supported models distinguishing specific soft and hard competencies. It should also be noted that the modern trend of the hospitality and tourism industry was to prioritise soft skills during employee evaluations and human resource planning (Jaykumar, 2018). The implication was that the differentiation between soft and hard skills was dictated no only by academics but also employers in the hospitality sector. Addressing the identified research gap, Adeyinka-Ojo (2018) constructed the following theoretical model (Figure 8).

 

Figure 8: Employability Skills Framework for Rural Hospitality and Tourism Destinations

Source: Adeyinka-Ojo (2018, p.52)

 

Conducting a deep theoretical investigation devoted to skills needed for the industry, Adeyinka-Ojo (2018) relied on the effect produced by specific employability skills. The authors displayed a relationship between employability skills and notable internal factors such as an employee’s personal values. Nevertheless, Adeyinka-Ojo’s (2018) did not consider education as a driver of a worker’s employability skills formation. This framework was focused on the individualistically oriented approach to an employee’s skills. The model of the study needed to incorporate both internal and external factors affecting employability.

 

2.3. Empirical Evidence on Employability Skills

This section is focused on employability skills classifications developed by other researchers in the field. It naturally leads to the creation of a list of variables to be further used in statistical analysis.

Proposing the investigation of sixteen employability dimensions (Figure 9), Blokker et al. (2019) mostly considered each item as a separate factor. The authors incorporated items 14-16 into the “objective career success” (Blokker et al., 2019, p.180) module, while items 9-10 were mentioned together in the context of objective career success and its impact on external employability.  However, other items were not grouped. The main limitation of Blokker’s et al. (2019) investigation was the ambiguity in the formation of the variable categories. The authors proposed a coherent list of the determinants of employability but were unable to detect any underlying categories explaining the resulting model (Blokker et al., 2019). This meant that their findings had limited relevance to the framework of the study.

Figure 9: Sixteen Dimensions of Employability

Source: Blokker et al. (2019, p.178)

 

Having applied the library research methodology to the analysis of the employability, Adeyinka-Ojo (2018) illustrated the most demanded employability skills for the industry that were valued by hospitality employees. This classification included 4 skill types as shown below (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Categorised Skills Valued the Most by the Hospitality and Tourism Companies Employers

Source: Adeyinka-Ojo (2018, p.52)

 

Supporting the trend of distinguishing between soft and hard skills, Adeyinka-Ojo (2018) attempted to apply the same approach to their investigation. Adeyinka-Ojo (2018) studied 403 relevant academic articles published during 2000-2017 devoted to the hospitality and tourism investigations and gave examples of soft and hard skills retrieved from the scientific literature. One critique was that the final set of the most demanded employability skills was presented in a ‘bulked’ manner and failed to display any difference between the hard and soft skills of the hospitality employees (Figure 11). It meant that the theoretical validity of Adeyinka-Ojo’s (2018) investigation was limited by the chosen methodology. This dissertation bridges the outlined gap by offering a clear differentiation between employability skills. A similar point could be made for the skillsets needed in the rural hospitality sector as defined by Adeyinka-Ojo (2018).

 

Figure 11: Rural Hospitality and Tourism Skills Needs

Source: Adeyinka-Ojo (2018, p.51)

 

The key finding was that employability was determined by the perceived differences between skill deficits and skill benefits (Adeyinka-Ojo, 2018). A similar point was made by Shivoro et al. (2018) with their study being similar to the methodological parameters established by Wakelin-Theron et al. (2018). The survey method was used in both empirical works. These two investigations were also underpinned by scientific research on the opinions of the three sides (specifically, working graduates, employers, and academic experts) involved in the process of young professionals’ initial employability (Shivoro et al., 2018; Wakelin-Theron et al., 2018).

Shivoro’s et al. (2018) list of employability skills (Figure 12) included fewer items than the model used by Wakelin-Theron’s et al. (2018). Shivoro’s et al. (2018) list items were not separated into soft and hard skills. This constituted another similarity with Wakelin-Theron’s et al. (2018) research work.

 

Figure 12: Alternative Attributes or Skills of Employability

Source: Shivoro et al. (2018, p.216)

 

One difference between the work of Shivoro et al. (2018) and other studies was the inclusion of an additional table that summarised the results of an open-ended question about employees’ abilities needed for management work. The set of young professionals’ competencies for training during their studies was compiled on the basis of the opinions of graduates, employers, and academic experts. Having discovered the similarities between their answers (Figure 13), Shivoro et al. (2018) highlighted the relationships between the items proposed by graduates and employers among all overlapping responses. This illustrated that graduates were aware of the relevant professional manager characteristics. While this had practical validity, Shivoro et al. (2018) did not rank the identified characteristics. Another limitation of Shivoro’s et al. (2018) investigation was that the authors did not evaluate these items in the context of young professionals’ management activities.

Figure 13: The Set of Young Professionals’ Competencies for Training during Their Studies

Source: Shivoro et al. (2018, p.228)

 

To address these issues, Sadik (2017) proposed the following list of graduates’ employability skills that should be acquired at higher education institutions (Figure 14). This list was used by Sadik (2017) for the survey completed by 283 hospitality graduates.

Figure 14: The Set of Hospitality Graduates’ Employability Skills

Source: Sadik (2017, p.293)

 

Relying on this data set, Sadik (2017) offered the ranked results of their answers (Figures 15 and 16).

Figure 15: Most Important Hospitality Graduates’ Employability Skills from the Perspective of the Lecturers

Source: Sadik (2017, p.293)

 

Evaluating the lecturers’ and the graduates’ responses, it should be noted that overlapping answers were found only in the three types of graduates’ employability skills namely enterprising, leadership, and technology oriented skills. Increasing graduates’ employability was a challenge for the educational system. It should also be noted that the importance of the technology skills development in the educational process was underlined by Ali et al. (2018) as a result of studies on graduate employability from the perspective of the hospitality services employers. This meant that the acquisition of specific competencies was visible to hospitality employers and determined their decision-making.

Figure 16: Most Important Hospitality Graduates’ Employability Skills from the Perspective of  the Graduates

Source: Sadik (2017, p.297)

 

The main limitation of Sadik’s (2017) investigation was the small sample of employers operating in the hospitality industry. The sample comprised only 11 employers that represented hotel businesses, restaurant businesses, and other hospitality-associated businesses. The authors failed to differentiate between these categories when discussing their findings, thus reducing validity and reliability (Sadik, 2017). Therefore, lectures’, graduates’ or students’ perspectives along with the hospitality sphere employers’ opinions should be accounted to provide holistic findings on employability. That could be achieved by comparing higher education institutions teachers’ and employers’ approaches to the problem of improving graduates’ employability skills. Another suggestion was to contrast employers’ and graduates’ or undergraduate students’ assessments of employability skillset.

One attempt at addressing this research gap was made by König and Ribarić (2019) who underlined substantial discrepancies between the lecturers’ and the employers’ understanding of young professionals’ employability. Comparing the most valuable abilities for successful employment, König and Ribarić (2019, 93) noted the largest discrepancies in the lecturers’ and the employers’ assessments of the following graduates’ skills, namely work ethics, practical experience, and critical thinking. According to Lisá et al. (2019) investigation, higher education institutions should pay more attention to practical curricula to bridge the gap between initial workers’ and employers’ perception of employability skills. This could be highly significant when preparing young specialists who are able to fill job vacancies. The thesis complements the works of König and Ribarić (2019) and Lisá et al. (2019) by assessing specific employability skills and the differences in how these are perceived by different stakeholders.

 

2.4. Conceptual Framework

The goal of the framework of this study is in illustrating the possible employment criteria established by hospitality firms in the UK (Eurostat, 2019). Relevant hospitality education (Sadik, 2017) is a necessary condition for successful graduates gaining their initial employment. This revealed the need for an in-depth study of the connection between formal education and employers’ demands and skill-related expectations (Wakelin-Theron et al. 2018). An employer’s satisfaction with hospitality graduates’ competence should be viewed as a significant criterion of employment in this dissertation. As was shown by Hedvicakova (2018), economy crises determined the tendency of graduates to decrease their demands on a work vacancy. Economy crises also impacted graduates’ willingness to avoid unemployment and to continue their work at their initial place of employment (Hedvicakova, 2018). This meant that employability also depended on macroenvironmental conditions and economic pressures. On the other hand, factors such as work bonuses, work problems, and salary scales in the tourism industry also influenced graduates’ willingness to continue this employment (Sarmiento and Siccion, 2018). The willingness to continue the current employment was an important indicator of employability, constituting a valuable employment criterion.

Relying on the academic literature, 5 soft and 5 hard skills were selected for this dissertation. Including the work of Sadik (2017), enterprising, managerial leadership, and technology competency were selected for the dissertation. Studying the role of hard skills of hospitality management graduates, Felicen and Ylagan (2018), Fyall et al. (2019), Sadik (2017), Shivoro et al. (2018), Sotiriadis (2018), and Wakelin-Theron et al. (2018) also underlined the importance of competencies such as a foreign language, marketing skills, and professional ethical behaviour. Assessing the importance of the soft skills of hospitality management graduates, Adeyinka-Ojo (2018), Sadik (2017), Shivoro et al. (2018), Sotiriadis (2018), and Wakelin-Theron et al. (2018) highlighted critical thinking, flexibility, interpersonal skills, and problem solving. The thesis addresses the limitations of these studies by incorporating all items into one holistic framework and formally distinguishing between hard and soft skills.

Table 1: Justification of the Research Variables

Source: Created for the dissertation

 

Relying on the conceptual framework, the three operational hypotheses are formulated.

H1. Advanced interpersonal skills decrease the time needed for finding initial employment for hospitality graduates.

H2. Developed technology competency leads to a higher employer satisfaction of hospitality management graduates.

H3. Developed marketing skills have a positive impact on hospitality graduates’ willingness to continue their initial employment.

 

Figure 17: The Conceptual Framework

Source: Created for the dissertation

 

2.5. Chapter Summary

Hospitality graduates’ employability is a vital indicator of the relevant coherence between the 3 stakeholders (namely the tourism industry employers, higher education institutions and tourism graduates). Hospitality graduates must be adequately educated professionals who can act in accordance with their sufficient work competencies (hard skills) along with developed personal abilities (soft skills), thus providing a visible benefit to employers.

 

Chapter 3: Research Method

3.1. Introduction

To analyse graduates’ employability, epistemology and positivism are selected to form the philosophical basis of the research. By using the deductive approach, the investigation compares the findings to extant theory. A questionnaire survey is distributed among a non-random sample to acquire primary data. While carrying out the data collection process, the responders were selected according to the necessary criteria that relied on the research objectives. Statistical analysis is chosen as the method of data analysis by applying the linear regression model to the collected graduates’ answers. The chapter also includes a brief review of the relevant ethical issues.

3.2. Research Philosophy

Relying on the work of Saunders’s et al. (2016), the research onion paradigm (Figure 18) was used as an approach to structure the methodological layers of the research. Epistemology (McCain and Kampourakis, 2019) and positivism (Frère, 2019) were considered as a base for research philosophy of this study. The deductive approach complements this choice by comparing the data to the extant body of knowledge on employability (Kennedy and Thornburg, 2018).

 

Figure 18: The Research Onion Paradigm

Source: Saunders et al. (2016, p.164)

 

Studying valid knowledge, epistemology (Sosa et al., 2019) explores specific ways of transferring acceptable knowledge (Saunders et al., 2016). Therefore, epistemology along with positivism should be considered as a philosophical ground for this dissertation. On the other hand, critically evaluating epistemology, Rorty (2019) underlined a serious limitation of epistemology namely the fact that epistemological research was unable to overcome the boundaries of thinking that were dictated by the language (Nielsen, 2019). Further supporting the choice of epistemology, the available work on the subject of employability also followed this research paradigm (Sadik, 2017); Shivoro et al., 2018; Bell et al., 2018). Despite their shortcomings, epistemology and positivism were acceptable for achieving the research objectives.

Another feature of epistemology and positivism was their strong link to the analysis of quantitative data (Bergin, 2018). Gofas et al. (2018) supported this by stating that positivism was an objective research philosophy emphasising unambiguous data interpretation. The implication was that the use of quantitative data was required in this study to meet the requirements of the positivistic philosophy (Saunders et al., 2016). By reviewing employability from an unbiased point of view, the study hopes to inform graduates and their potential employers. The focus on objectiveness is at the same time a core limitation of positivism. This stance neglects unique and individual opinions (Matusov et al., 2019). This meant that the study may fail to capture the full complexity of human behaviours and how these related to employability.

 

3.3. Research Approach

Deduction is a method of formal logic (Hughes and Londey, 2019) that dictates that analysis should descend from the general idea to a particular outcome (Gabbay and Guenthner, 2018). In particular, the findings should link to the key theories and models of graduates’ employability and the theoretical base of the hospitality young professionals’ skillset. Applying deductive approach to the dissertation, the conceptual framework was developed to test the 3 hypotheses. Given that deductive method enables the study to empirically validate the proposed model, the elements of the framework of the study should form the core of the data collection process (Kara, 2018). The employability theories along with the findings of the empirical articles could be a source confirming or rejecting previously established theories. The findings could be indicative of the development of unique employability skillsets.

By implementing the deductive method, the employability models mentioned by other researchers were used for identification of the independent variables inserted in the survey. Therefore, the 3 hypotheses were developed and evaluated relying on the existing variables retrieved from the literature review. However, deduction also meant that the contribution of the study was limited to the reviewed theories of employability. The thesis is unable to propose any unique employability skills or perspectives on employability. The fact that the research variables were limited also meant that the findings were largely informed by other empirical research. In contrast to deduction, the inductive approach (Ary et al., 2018) is an opportunity to develop a new theory of young specialists’ employability. The goal of the study, however, was in verifying the extant theories of employability and their relevance to the UK hospitality industry.

 

3.4. Research Strategy

The existing investigations devoted to identifying the appropriate skills of hospitality and tourism young professionals used questionnaires to determine the graduates’ abilities and competencies that could be a part of graduate education (Sadik, 2017; Wakelin-Theron et al., 2018). Therefore, the survey method (Lorenc et al., 2018) is applicable to this particular topic. The strength of questionnaire surveys was in collecting valid numeric data using a specific set of variables such as employability skills (Lorenc et al., 2018). At the same time, limiting the number of answers available to the sample also threatened the validity of the thesis. To address this, the questionnaire incorporated the components of the framework of the study, namely 5 hard skills, 5 soft skills and the 3 employment criteria.

This research work relies on a structured questionnaire distributed among the hospitality stakeholders.  The questionnaire survey includes 3 sections namely respondent profile, the self-appraisal of employability skills and the perceptions of initial employment.

Table 2: The Questionnaire Sections

Source: Created for the dissertation

 

A total of 56 responses was sufficient to create a valid research sample (National Social Norms Institute, 2019). The Likert scale (Allen, 2017) was chosen when creating the response options. The 5-points scale was implemented by the researcher. The rationale was that such a method could simplify data analysis and facilitate the implementation of the linear regression method (Saunders et al., 2016). On the other hand, the use of the Likert scale also contributed to limiting the response options to a pre-determined series of answers. The thesis acknowledges that secondary data could have also been indicative of employability in the hospitality sector (Saunders et al., 2016). However, the use of secondary data limited the validity of the empirical analysis, meaning that only primary evidence is used by the dissertation (Saunders et al., 2016). Another issue facing secondary data is the difficulty in measuring its reliability and credibility (Sarstedt and Mooi, 2018; Lohr, 2019).

 

3.5. Data Collection Process

The thesis relied on non-random non-probability sampling when selecting participants among young specialists in the hospitality sector (Saunders et al., 2016). A similar method was used in other studies on the same topic, justifying this decision (Sadik, 2017; Wakelin-Theron et al., 2018). The 4 criteria originally mentioned by Lee and Saunders (2017) were chosen as the sample inclusion criteria. These factors were representative of the relevant hospitality management graduates’ skillsets. The data was indicative of the needs of the hospitality sector companies.

Table 3: Selection Criteria for the Survey

Source: Created for the dissertation

 

The criteria of the survey respondents’ selection were developed according to the research objectives. The responders are graduates who finished their hospitality management programmes within the last 3 years. The participants are also specialists still at the starting stages of their career and working for the same company that was their first place of employment.

Turning to the data collection process, it should be noted that one of the most significant issues was selecting a sufficiently large sample for the survey. The author’s personal contacts constituted the base of the research sample. In addition, the researcher searched for suitable hospitality management graduates on Instagram and Facebook using hashtags and industry communities and sent personal messages to these candidates with a link to a SurveyMonkey (2019) questionnaire form. Given that the response rate in online questionnaires does not usually exceed 11% (Evans and Mathur, 2018), the researcher had to contact more than 200 potential respondents to achieve the final sample of 56 participants.

 

3.6. Data Analysis Process

The studied variables were classified as dependent and independent variables. into two categories namely independent and dependent variable types (Table 3). The participants’ skills were independent variables while employment criteria constituted dependent variables.

Table 4: The Research Variable Definition

Source: Created for the dissertation

 

The following equations were developed to apply linear regression (Hill et al., 2018) to the three dependent variables.

In the above equations, HQG stands for a young specialist’s perception of the time required for finding the first hospitality job after graduation. EST represents the level of a graduate’s first employer’s satisfaction with a young specialist’s competence. WCE serves as a measure of a young specialist’s willingness to continue working for a graduate’s first company in the future. While α0 is a constant, β1, 2, 3…10 are the skills of the sample participants (i = 1, 2, 3...56) with ε marking the residuals.

Analysing the quantitative data retrieved from the filled survey forms, the researcher relies on descriptive statistics, Excel-based graphical tools and the linear regression model.  By implementing linear regression (Damodar, 2018) equations, the key regularities of hospitality management graduates’ initial employment in the UK were clarified. Such an approach to data analysis process allowed the researcher to verify the 3 hypotheses proposed for the investigation. Causal relationships between the research variables were tested during the process of data analysis. One critique of the data analysis procedure was that the linear regression model was sensitive to outliers (Hill et al., 2018). Graphical analysis is used as a means of addressing this challenge. Another problem was that the studied sample was relatively small for statistical analysis (Taherdoost, 2017; Moser and Kalton, 2017).

 

3.7. Ethical Issues and Limitations

All the potential responders were informed that they could reject the invitation to fill out the questionnaire form. The participants were also able to revoke their participation at any time during the data collection process. The author deleted all identifying data from the questionnaire forms, meaning that the study was confidential but not fully anonymous (Saunders et al., 2016). The obtained raw data was deleted after the research project was completed to avoid sharing it intentionally or unintentionally with third parties.

 

3.8. Chapter Summary

The study uses a quantitative research strategy to collect primary data from young specialists in the hospitality industry. A linear regression model is used for data analysis supported by descriptive statistics and graphical analysis. The thesis follows the philosophical paradigm of epistemology and a positivistic stance. Increasing validity, the questionnaire survey is based on the framework of the study and the extant theories of employability.

 

Chapter 4: Analysis of the Findings

4.1. Introduction

This chapter identifies the main findings of the research. Relying on the literature review along with the responders’ self-appraisals, the connections between the 3 dependent and the 10 independent variables are studied in accordance with the operational hypotheses. By studying these relationships, the study contributes to the identification of the particular graduates’ skills that affect young professionals’ initial employability. Relying on the conceptual framework, the 3 hypotheses are tested with the aid of the linear regression method.

 

4.2. The Characteristics of the Sample

Following the recommendations made by Brace (2018), the questionnaire included questions assessing the participants’ demographics and professional experiences. The following figure focuses on the professionals’ gender.

Figure 19: What is Your Gender? (%)

While 53.6% of the sample participants were male, the remaining percentage was distributed among females (42.9%) and those respondents who preferred not to mention their gender (3.6%). A positive observation is that the survey covered a representative percentage of each gender, thus increasing the generalisability of the study.

As demonstrated in the following figure, 39.3% chose the ‘2017’ response option when asked about the year in which they had completed their hospitality management programmes. It should be underlined that the lowest indicator (10.7% for ‘2018’) was approximately 3.7 times smaller than the highest indicator. Therefore, the considerable gap between the collected data referred to 2017 and to 2018 is obvious. Nonetheless, being relevant to the main condition of the investigation, the whole sample of the survey participants contained only responses of the young specialists that had their work experience limited to the three-year period.

 

Figure 20: When Did You Finish Your Hospitality Management Programme? (%)

 

Assessing the results for Question 14 (Figure 22), it should be highlighted that the majority of the survey responders were employed by hospitality firms within the first few months following their graduation. A total of 80.3% of the survey respondents started their work being students or within the first 6 months after graduation.

Figure 21: How Long Did It Take You to Find Your First Hospitality Job after Graduation? (%)

 

The thesis argues that the young workers’ intentions to start their careers in the hospitality sector were enough to attain initial employment. Another argument illustrating the high validity of the findings was that the majority of the sample still retained their impressions and memories of their formal education. This meant that their responses were of high value to other graduates and hospitality organisations.

 

4.3. The Hard and Soft Skills of Hospitality Management Graduates

The discussion now turns to the hard and soft skills possessed by the graduates (Allen, 2017). The following figure highlights the findings of technology competencies.

Figure 22: Technology Competency (%)

 

The responses were possibly indicative of the relationship between technology competencies and the employer’s satisfaction with competencies. 41.1% of the sample chose the response option ‘Average’ while the same percentage was equal to 1.8% for the answer ‘Poor’. The technology competencies of the sample were developed to a moderately high degree. A similar point could be said for ethical behaviours.

Figure 23: Professional Ethical Behaviour (%)

 

The response option ‘Poor’ was only chosen by 1.8% of the sample which was also the case for critical thinking. Technology competencies, ethical behaviours and critical thinking formed a cluster of the most developed hard and soft skills of young graduates.

Figure 24: Critical Thinking (%)

 

When selecting a relevant option among the five alternatives that described the levels of the graduates’ technology competency according to their self-appraisal, the majority of the respondents (41.1%) answered “Average”. This result might be explained by the fact that modern students and graduates have a relatively high level of skills needed for using computers and digital gadgets. Relying on information and communications technology, contemporary hospitality services exhibit a high demand for skilled specialists in this area (Silva et al., 2019). Comparing the sum of the percentages for the “Above average” and the “Advanced” options for questions 8 (51.7%) and 9 (64.3%), it can be concluded that majority of the young workers were satisfied with their critical thinking skills. In contrast, problem solving constituted a significant problem for the participants. In total, 35.7% of the sample chose the options “Below average” and “Poor” when evaluating their competencies.

Figure 25: Problem Solving (%)

 

The implication was that problem solving, despite its significance, required further development during graduate education in the hospitality sector. The following table summarises the descriptive statistics for the hard and soft skills of the participants.

Table 5: Descriptive Statistics

The table demonstrates that the strongest skills among the hard skills were professional ethical behaviours (2.1964) and technology competency (2.3750). The results were in agreement with Sadik (2017) who underlined the significance of the hospitality sector workers’ moral characteristics, and with Silva’s et al. (2019) research that focused on the coherence between information and communications technology and the hospitality sector in the context of using and developing relevant skills. Critical thinking (2.1786) and interpersonal skills (2.3750) were displayed as the strongest skills among soft skills. The importance of critical thinking is in line with Wakelin-Theron et al. (2018) who proposed to research critical thinking in the context of operational skills. The significance of interpersonal skills was illustrated by Sotiriadis (2018) who underlined the significance of intragroup relationships.

On the other side, marketing skills (2.8036), as well as managerial leadership competencies (2.6071), were the least developed hard skills. The lack of professional experience arguably meant that the self-appraisals of graduates were largely negative in these areas. That indicated some flaws of the educational process. Improving the curricula of hospitality education was a possible solution to this problem. Problem solving (3.0000) and flexibility (2.8750) were marked as the weakest skills among soft skills. These results clearly displayed that by undertaking their skills evaluations, graduates mostly preferred to choose the “Average” option or the answers close to this on the Likert scale.

 

4.4. The Impact of Hard and Soft Skills on Employability

This section analyses the results of applying the linear regression model to the questionnaire data.  A p-value (Sig.) of 0.05 or lower is used as the criterion of statistical significance (Gray and Kinnear, 2012). The following table focuses on how quickly the participants found their first jobs. The outcomes rejected Hypothesis 1 as interpersonal skills did not have an effect on the dependent variable.

Table 5: The Impact of Hard and Soft Skills on How Quickly Graduates Found Employment (Linear Regression)

 

On the other hand, variables denoting ‘professional ethical behaviour’ (Sig. = 0.042; B = 0.407) and ‘problem solving’ (Sig. = 0.002; B = 0.352) were statistically significant. As the beta coefficients were positive, the time required for attaining employment depended on the graduates’ professional ethical behaviour along with their problem solving skill. These results were in line with Sadik (2017) who underlined the significance of the hospitality companies’ social responsibility that demanded a sufficient level of the employers’ ethical abilities. Relying on Sadik’s (2017) assumptions, it should be concluded that students should master their skills in ethical behaviour to become employed in the hospitality sector. That determined the hospitality graduates’ need to be professionally prepared at their universities for their rapid recruitment.

The need for developing one’s ethical behaviours and problem solving abilities were indicative of the fact that the provision of intangible services was the core of the hospitality sector. This indicated that social communications were the basis of the task perceptions held by young graduates. As was demonstrated by Jaykumar (2018), the development of such skills had to be supported in graduates’ education curricula.

Testing Hypothesis 2, the employer’s satisfaction variable was screened for statistical significance of the relationship with the young specialists’ technology competency variable (Table 6). The findings rejected Hypothesis 2 as demonstrated below.

Table 6: The Impact of Hard and Soft Skills on Employer’s Satisfaction with Competence (Linear Regression)

It should be noted that only flexibility (Sig. = 0.001; B = 0.625) had a statistically significant impact on employer’s satisfaction with graduates. As flexibility reflected the ability of workers to adjust to the demands of individual clients, this skill was highly valuable in the hospitality sector (Wakelin-Theron et al., 2018). On the other hand, as only one variable passed the criterion of statistical significance, the results may also have been affected by respondent bias.

Table 7 researches the connection between the willingness to continue employment and marketing skills (Sig. = 0.010; B = 0.530) with the aid of the linear regression model. This relationship was assessed as statistically significant because the obtained indicator passed the accepted benchmark of statistical analysis (Gray and Kinnear, 2012). The development of one’s marketing skills increased the graduates’ knowledge of the needs of the clients of hospitality firms. This was consistent with the explanations provided by Hedvicakova (2018).

Table 7: The Impact of Hard and Soft Skills on Willingness to Continue First-Time Employment (Linear Regression)

The development of marketing skills also increased the professional competencies of the workers, thus increasing their motivation. One explanation of the findings was the time required for implementing various skills. For instance, interpersonal skills required graduates to establish long-term relationships with clients and internal stakeholders, meaning that it was difficult to assess the statistical significance of these competencies (Sotiriadis, 2018). Another justification was that interpersonal skills were required by other sectors besides the hospitality industry (Sadik, 2017). The development of this competency increased the ability of graduates to find work in a wide variety of settings such as other service industries. This was why the beta coefficient was negative for this variable.

 

4.5. Chapter Summary

The findings supported Hypothesis 3 but rejected hypotheses 1 and 2. Flexibility, problem solving skills, marketing competencies and interpersonal skills all passed the criterion of statistical significance. Nonetheless, interpersonal skills reduced the participants’ willingness to continue their current employment.

 

Chapter 5: Discussion, Conclusion and Recommendations

The final chapter summarises the findings and compares the outcomes to the extant body of knowledge on employability. The thesis also assesses the degree, to which the findings addressed the research objectives. Another sub-section also transforms the findings into meaningful recommendations to the stakeholders in the hospitality sector.

 

5.1. Discussion of the Findings

According to the findings of this dissertation, the employability skillset consisted of 10 items. These were divided into 2 categories, namely hard skills and soft skills. These findings were consistent with the investigations of Ali et al. (2018), Felicen and Ylagan (2018), Sadik (2017), and Shivoro et al. (2018). Confirming their findings, the dissertation highlighted the significance of foreign language proficiencies, managerial leadership, marketing competencies, professional ethical behaviour, technology literacy and the ability to implement knowledge in practice. The thesis acknowledges that not all findings of other authors were reflected in the data. For instance, the investigation avoided including basic literacy and numeracy attributes as a hard skill despite the fact that this capability was mentioned by Shivoro et al. (2018) and Sadik (2017). The implication was that there existed hard skills which were considered to be necessary for any applicant while the hard skills highlighted by the study had high relevance specifically to the hospitality industry (Shivoro et al., 2018; Sadik, 2017).

The findings were also indicative of the works of Hedvicakova (2018), Sarmiento and Siccion (2018), Sotiriadis (2018), and Wakelin-Theron et al. (2018) who illustrated the value of soft skills. The findings suggested that critical thinking, enterprising skills, flexibility, interpersonal skills and problem solving abilities were among the most sufficiently developed soft skills of young graduates. These capabilities were also among the factors influencing employment criteria. The implication was that the listed soft skills were of high relevance to the hospitality sector while other soft skills failed to pass this benchmark. On the other hand, the investigation did not incorporate other soft skills reviewed by scholars such as oral communications and emotional competencies (Sadik, 2017). The results could have reflected the perceptions of a limited group of employers, thus questioning their applicability to the hospitality industry in the UK as a whole.

Being in agreement with Fyall’s et al. (2019), and Sotiriadis’ (2018) assumptions, the survey results confirmed the validity of the statement that marketing skills were relevant to the employability of young professionals. The findings also highlighted the significance of ethical behaviours as a driver of employability.  These outcomes were in line with the findings of Shivoro‘s et al. (2018), and Wakelin-Theron’s et al. (2018). Moreover, the significance of the problem solving ability was illustrated by Adeyinka-Ojo (2018) who proposed to study problem solving in the context of rural hospitality. This meant that there existed a holistic model of skills that boosted the employability of young graduates. Problem solving had a positive impact on the employment criteria; however, this result was only attained when problem solving was a part of a larger skillset including marketing skills and professional ethical behaviours. The goal of postgraduate education was in ensuring that all areas of this holistic model were addressed equally. This was further supported by the fact that flexibility was among the most valuable skills that had to be fostered by young professionals (Sadik, 2017; Wakelin-Theron et al., 2018). It was not individual skills but the ability of graduates to present value to hospitality firms that affected employability. In turn, value was arguably driven by the ability of applicants to switch between different competencies as elements of one framework.

 

5.2. Summary of the Findings

The first research objective was to determine the employability skillset needed for the hospitality industry. The thesis argued that flexibility, professional ethical behaviours, marketing competencies, critical thinking and problem solving skills were among the most crucial competencies needed for improved employability. These were categorised into hard and soft skills. The findings fully addressed the first goal of the study. The second research objective was to investigate the young specialists’ perceptions of their employment during the first three years after finishing their hospitality management programmes at universities. The results stated that modern hospitality firms presented a challenging work environment. The employees were required to display high levels of professional ethics as well as fulfil a variety of work functions in the areas of marketing and technology. The implication was that graduate education in the hospitality sector was required to expand its curricula. The third research objective was to find a connection between the hospitality management graduates’ skillset and their employability. The findings indicated that there existed a direct correlation between the graduates’ skills and their employability. Nonetheless, not all hard and soft skills were equally significant. This meant that a greater degree of focus on 4 specific skills mentioned previously was necessary for young professionals aiming to improve their employability.

 

5.3. Evaluation of Hypotheses

By testing the three hypotheses of the dissertation, the linear regression technique was implemented that revealed confirmation of Hypothesis 3, while hypotheses 1 and 2 were not confirmed. Making a conclusion, it should be underlined that only the connection between the young specialists’ developed marketing skills and their willingness to prolong their current employment at the first work was statistically approved among all hypothetical assumptions. That fact gives an opportunity to make a statement that the topic of the hospitality management graduates’ professional abilities influence on the period of the job searching time by young specialists may be interesting for researchers. Moreover, the question of the hospitality management graduates’ skills effect on the young professionals’ satisfaction level might be of interest to research scientists.

 

5.4. Recommendations for Hospitality Stakeholders

The thesis proposes recommendations addressed to 4 stakeholder groups, namely the students of higher education institutions, the providers of educational services in the hospitality sector, hospitality firms and other scholars. This reflected the 3-way partnership model of Wakelin-Theron et al. (2018). It is recommended that the students should become experienced in marketing skills, professional ethical behaviour, flexibility, and problem solving abilities while placing emphasis on soft skills due to the current trends in the hospitality sector. It is also suggested that the educationists should modify current academic curricula to include the provision of these skills. However, this has to be complemented by employers drawing the attention of educationists to the actual demands of the hospitality market to develop and use the relevant curricula to prepare students to take on positions in the hospitality sector.

Another argument is that future researchers should deeply investigate the employers' assessments of the graduates’ skillset demanded by the current situation in the hospitality sphere. It should be fruitful to conduct researches devoted to specific skillsets needed by the hospitality industry branches such as accommodations, food and drinks, recreation, and travelling. It is recommended that by investigating each individual hospitality industry branch, the future researchers of the hospitality industry should assess three stakeholder groups such as the employers, the employees and the educators who provide services to students.

The hospitality management students can improve their skills through job training and voluntary work in the hospitality sector organisations. In particular, a hospitality management student can develop marketing competencies by evaluating a wide range of marketing cases and marketing theories. Internet resources, as well as marketing books, may be used as sources of specific marketing cases as well as the different marketing concepts. A hospitality management student can improve marketing competencies with the aid of marketing specialists. Students can attend business seminars and online consultations conducted by other experts. Hospitality management students can try to find relevant jobs for developing and performing marketing skills.  In addition, hospitality management students can use existing opportunities that are offered by higher education institutions such as taking a marketing course, meeting with marketing teachers and participating in open learning communities.

 

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