Beverley Seager, Cape Town Hotel School, Cape Peninsula University of Technology
This reflective case study explores the integration of the hospitality Work-integrated Learning (WIL) training programme in the hospitality curriculum at the Cape Town Hotel School (CTHS) in Cape Town, South Africa. The importance of the placement process is discussed as well as the manner in which the curriculum outcomes are embedded in, and assessed during, the WIL placement. The chapter closes with the challenges that the CTHS faces, and the recommendations to improve the WIL placement.
For the past 30 years Work-integrated Learning placements (WIL) have formed an integral part of the National Diploma in Hospitality Management qualification offered by the Cape Town Hotel School (CTHS), a department within the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. These placements are offered twice during the three-year diploma programme, at the beginning of the second year, and at the end of the third year of study. As credit-bearing subjects, it is essential that there is an integration of the theoretical aspects of the hospitality qualification into WIL placements, and that these placements are assessed adequately to meet the outcomes of the qualification.
WIL placements are an important component of higher education qualifications, especially at universities of technology (Mcallister & Nagarajan, 2015:279; Hay, 2020:51; Scholz, 2020:25). According to McAllister and Nagarajan (2015:279), it is important that the experience gained through WIL is properly integrated into the curriculum to ensure that the student meets the required outcomes. This point is substantiated by McNamara and Ruinard (2016:23), who insist that the curriculum of a WIL programme should contain specific criteria, the performance against which must be assessed by suitable methods to ensure that the required outcomes are achieved (Ferns & Zegwaard, 2014:184). Hodges et al. (2014:190) expand on this understanding of assessment by describing it as a way of preparing the student for life, as learning is a lifelong phenomenon. Winberg et al. (2011:41) stipulate that the assessment of WIL must be carried out in accordance with the same principles as any standard assessment practices. The assessment processes in WIL should be “appropriate, fair, transparent, formative as well as summative, valid, authentic, and consistent” (Winberg et al., 2011:41). The CTHS places considerable emphasis on the WIL placements of the hospitality curriculum, ensuring adequate integration and assessments of these placements.
Placement of students
On average, 100 students are placed within the hospitality industry for their WIL placements every six-months. As a credit-bearing subject that is assessed, it is important that the placement process serves all three components of the WIL practice, namely the student, the hospitality establishment, and the educational institution. It is important that there is coherence between the student and the establishment providing the WIL placement. Although it is difficult to align the designated student to the appropriate placement all the time, a specific process is followed to ensure that there is an understanding of the expectations of both the hospitality establishment and the student. Here communication is key in building relationships with the hospitality establishments, and liaising with the students. This responsibility lies with the WIL Coordinator.
The CTHS has a database of hospitality establishments that accept students for their WIL placements. This database is very dynamic, and requires constant attention to ensure that as many possible hospitality establishments are available to accept students. When creating this database, it is important to identify the requirements of each establishment. The required information includes:
- The exact location of the establishment and whether the establishment offers staff transport. Students often struggle with transport and this is an important factor to ensure that all students can get to and from work safely, and within the hours that they are required to work.
- The student-intake that the establishment can accept, and the key departments where they would be placed. These key departments are categorized as Rooms Division, Food and Beverage, and the kitchen for the Professional Cookery students. This information is dynamic and must be confirmed prior to each placement period.
- The possibility of a monthly stipend is established. Although this is not an essential aspect of the placement, the stipend does assist students to cover transport costs and serves as an excellent motivational factor. For many of the students this is their first form of income, and assists students who are generally rather cash strapped.
- The type of establishment must be identified. Aspects included here are the size, the star-grading, and the target market of the establishment. These aspects are important as they define the type of student who would suit specific establishments. For example, a student who prefers a corporate atmosphere should settle in and function better in a hotel that caters for a corporate target market.
- The contact person at the establishment. Generally, the WIL Coordinator works with the HR department, and more specifically the Learning and Development Manager. This relationship is essential in making the placement process smoother. Although changes in the contact person are not a regular occurrence, it is important to stay abreast with the correct contact person for both placement purposes and to address any issues that arise with the student during the placement.
These aspects are an ongoing process to ensure that the hospitality establishment database for WIL placements is completely up-to-date.
Students complete WIL placements twice during their three-year programme. The first placement is at their start of their second academic year. The preparation and placement of these students takes place during their first year of study, and takes the form of WIL preparation classes, and one-on-one interviews with the WIL Coordinator. There is a distinct difference between the WIL preparation classes for students going on their first WIL placement, and those students who have already been on a student placement and are being prepared for their final WIL placement. The final year students complete their WIL placements at the end of their academic year and therefore are often seeking a placement that may become permanent employment. Therefore, the WIL preparedness for these students concentrates on guest speakers from different hospitality establishments and employment agencies. Social media is now an important aspect of employment therefore the students are exposed to the importance of the correct social media presence on platforms such as Linkedin.
Students being prepared for their first WIL placement require a different kind of preparation. The majority of these students completed their schooling the previous year and have little or no work experience. Therefore, the work preparedness classes take on the form of preparing the student for the workplace. The WIL preparation classes for first year students include the following topics:
- An introduction to WIL and how the placement process takes place as students are required to complete a WIL Placement Application form.
- How to write a professional curriculum vitae with the different aspects of the CV discussed, and the student is required to submit a soft copy of their CV which is used for the placement process.
- Interview and grooming skills teaches students proper grooming and how to dress and present themselves in the interview. Typical interview-questions that a student may be asked are discussed during these classes. Students are required to complete an interview role play, which helps the WIL Coordinator to identify areas where students may need improvement.
- Students are issued with a WIL student manual: This manual includes all aspects regarding the placement, including such things as how to behave on placement, what to do if the student is placed in a difficult situation, and how the placement is assessed. This manual is discussed in detail, allowing for the discussion of various topics regarding related to the world of work, such as what to expect during the placement, and how to behave as an employee and not just a student.
- Part of the assessment process is the completion of a portfolio: This is discussed at length during the WIL preparedness classes.
- Group discussions are held on different scenarios that could occur in the workplace and how students should behave in these situations.
In addition to the WIL preparedness classes, the WIL Coordinator has one-on-one interviews with each student. The purpose of this process is the find out more about the students, their background, their interest in the hospitality industry, and the type of establishment they prefer. The line of questioning in these interviews is aligned to the hospitality establishment database whereby the student is questioned as to the type and size of establishment they wish to work in, and their access to transport to and from work, especially after hours when public transport is not as readily available. The safety of the students are paramount; therefore, consideration must be made regarding these aspects.
The placement process
Once the hospitality database is reviewed and student interviews are completed the actual placement process is conducted. This involves matching suitable students to different establishments. Student CVs are sent to the relevant hospitality establishments for review, and subsequent interviews. The final decision lies with the hospitality establishments, as they accept the student based on the interview. This process is ongoing until all students are placed. It is important to note that all communication flows through the WIL office.
Embedding the curriculum in the WIL placements
The importance of embedding the curriculum in the WIL placements to ensure that the student meets the graduate outcomes has been established. This process is often difficult to achieve successfully. The method in which the hospitality curriculum at the CTHS is embedded in the WIL placement is by ensuring that the students are exposed to the relevant positions within the key department where they are placed. At the start of the placement both the student and the hospitality establishment are given a WIL training guideline, the purpose of which is to ensure that both parties are aware of what is expected during the WIL placements. Within each department students are required to complete certain procedures to ensure that they are exposed to the procedure and understand both the theoretical and practical aspect of the procedure. This is best explained through an example of checking in a guest of during a Rooms Division placement.
During the Rooms Division placement, the student works for a length of time at the reception desk. One of the skills the student must acquire is to know how to check-in a guest. The theory behind this concept is covered in the subject Accommodation Management. The student now has an opportunity to apply the theory in the real-world environment, using the relevant property management system (PMS). At the same time the student learns the importance of communication skills, observes supervisory skills, and utilizes the information learnt in Hospitality Information Systems by using the PMS. In this way the theoretical content is incorporated into the WIL placement.
This is one example of how the curriculum is incorporated into the WIL placement. This scenario is replicated in the various practical procedures that occur on a day-to-day basis in the hospitality industry. The next step is ensuring that the procedure is assessed adequately for positive learning.
Assessment during the WIL placement
The purpose of the assessment is to measure the student’s understanding of each concept, and determine where assistance is required (McNamara & Ruinard, 2016:23). The assessment process at the CTHS is threefold: the student is assessed at the workplace by a workplace supervisor or manager on a monthly basis; the student submits a portfolio of evidence of what has been learnt during the placement; evaluation of attendance and class activities during the work preparedness classes.
The student portfolio
The largest allocation of marks is for the student portfolio, which is submitted a week after completing the WIL placement. There is a guideline on how the portfolio must be written and presented, which is addressed during the work preparedness classes. The reasoning behind the portfolio is that students keep a diary of their experiences during their placement, which they can translate into a reflection of the learning achieved and experiences gained during the WIL placement. It is important to understand that the knowledge gained during a WIL placement is not limited to theoretical and practical knowledge, but includes the development of the soft skills required to succeed in the hospitality workplace. Although some students find the portfolio tedious, the reflection obtained during its writing helps to cement the knowledge gained during the WIL placement.
The workplace assessment
A monthly assessment at the workplace is conducted by the student’s manager or supervisor. The ideal situation is that the student is assessed by the person who has observed her or his performance the most. There are numerous challenges regarding the workplace assessment which are discussed under the reflection and recommendations section.
The work preparedness mark allocation
Ensuring that students are prepared for the WIL placement is an important part of the Coordinator’s work. Preparedness classes are not assessed by the normal written assessment method, rather through work and exercises completed during the year. It is important that there is a mark allocated for this aspect of the WIL placement to ensure students are exposed to its expectations. A fundamental aspect that students are required to remember is that, while on placement, they remain a representative of the CTHS, and therefore their behaviour and work ethic must reflect the ethos of the CTHS. This point is stressed during the WIL preparedness classes.
Reflections and recommendations
The WIL placements at the CTHS are essential in equipping graduates of the National Diploma in Hospitality Management with the necessary skills for the hospitality workplace. Throughout the WIL placement process, the integration of the curriculum and assessment of the WIL placement are well established, but are not without challenges.
The placement process
There is a systematic approach to placing students, however there are various variables that affect the placement process. One of the challenges facing the CTHS is the lack of actual placement venues. A combination of increasing student numbers and the economic climate, limits the number of students to be placed. Although some establishments would accept students for placements if there was no stipend payable, the majority of students simply do not have the money to work for free. One of the recommendations to overcome this situation is to allow students to complete WIL Intervention projects. During 2020 when students could not be placed in the hospitality industry due the COVID-19 pandemic, and the closure of the majority of hospitality establishments, students were exposed to different methods of WIL experiences. This has now become a new area of research and new methods are being investigated and developed to ensure all students complete their WIL subject, even if they cannot be placed in an actual work environment.
Embedding the curriculum in the WIL placements
One of the challenges that students face during the WIL placement is to ensure they move between departments. The hospitality industry is a high-pressured environment plagued by a shortage of staff, which results in many establishments keeping students in a particular department once they have shown competency. This prevents students from being exposed to all departments in the establishments, thus preventing them from integrating all aspects of their curriculum into the WIL placement. The outcomes of the curriculum are not clear cut, but rather intertwined into various scenarios in the day-to-day operations in the establishment. It is important that stakeholders at hospitality establishments understand the importance of students moving between departments to gain the most from their WIL placement. One of the recommendations to improve this challenge is to ensure good communication between the educational institution and the hospitality establishment. There must be complete understanding by the hospitality establishment on what is expected by them as a crucial aspect in the training of the student. These outcomes can be stipulated in the training guidelines issued, and importantly, filtered down to all supervisors and managers responsible for the training of students.
Assessment during the WIL placement
There are numerous challenges facing the assessment process during the WIL placement which have resulted in a large amount of research done into this topic. The challenges that the CTHS students have experienced include biased assessments, assessments that do not actually measure their capabilities, and supervisors and managers who do not take an interest in the evaluation of the students. Some supervisors and managers do not understand the importance of the evaluation, and rather see it as an unnecessary task, and assessments are not being completed together with students, which means that both the input and feedback from the supervisor is limited. Overall, there is a lack of feedback which is detrimental to students as they cannot learn from their mistakes. The assessment process requires improvement. One recommendation is that an academic lecturer be involved in the assessment process. Although this is an excellent idea, logistically it would not be possible to implement such a process for every monthly assessment for each student due to the number of students and the locations where students are placed. However, there are suggestions that could help improve the assessment process, including:
- The WIL lecturer or an academic lecturer visiting the student once during the WIL placement. During this visit, one assessment could take place between the lecturer, the student and an industry representative. At this time, there could be discussions of how the student has improved, any challenges that the student may have faced, and goals for the remainder of the WIL placement. Although the lecturer cannot give input on the student’s work performance, the fact that the lecturer is involved in the process will encourage the feedback process.
- The amount of interaction between the student, the industry representative and the academic lecturer can be increased by incorporating student and industry consultations via Zoom calls, WhatsApp calls or Team calls. It is important to incorporate social media to ensure that there is sufficient contact between the three stakeholders in the WIL subject.
The WIL subject is crucial to the success of the National Diploma of Hospitality Management at the CTHS. Although the programme has been running successfully for many years, there are always challenges, and insight is necessary to ensure these challenges are addressed for a better WIL placement for students. The framework of the placement process, and the manner in which students are exposed to the hospitality establishments and assessed, is in essence, sound. There are challenges, and these can be addressed through improved communication between the educational institution and the hospitality establishments. It is also important that technological advances are maintained and incorporated in the communication with students and hospitality establishments during the WIL placements.
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