You can study anything you like to become whatever you want

By Michael Petrillose

After decades of challenges, ‘vocational education’ is experiencing a global renaissance and surge in popularity. But many students, parents and teachers, especially in the UAE, remain unaware of this type of training, and the benefits and the corresponding career opportunities that it can bring.

At its heart, vocational education is skill-focused training. It provides individuals with both technical knowledge and ‘hands-on’ experience, thereby increasing their marketability and employability in the industry of their choosing. Of course, the concept of practical training is not new, and has evolved from traditional apprenticeship systems, where a young person would be ‘bound over’ to assist and shadow a master craftsman for a period of seven years to learn the skills of a trade.

Founders and proponents of the modern system of vocational education we know today include August Escoffier who rose through the ranks in the kitchen to become world-renowned chef and ‘Father of French cuisine’; Ellsworth Statler, the first hotelier of the modern era, who started his career as a dishwasher and waiter and performed every job in the hotel before becoming General Manager and finally owning his own collection of boutique hotels; and Senator Nelson Rockefeller whose development of the New York State, USA colleges of technology for the State University of New York University system, is, in my opinion, one of the greatest achievements of his career, elevating his state’s educational system and providing a model for the rest of the US to follow.

The true beauty of vocational education is that it is mutually beneficial to both student and industry. Colleges such as the newly inaugurated Dubai College of Tourism (DCT) are working with young, unskilled individuals, equipping them with theoretical knowledge, soft skills and practical experience to enable them to thrive in their chosen career. Equally, vocational education benefits industry by providing companies with much-needed skilled workers to enter the labour force, as well potentially reducing in-house training costs. And lastly, as an economy that is rapidly growing, the UAE recognises the need for a skilled workforce to enable economic growth and vocational education can help develop a local knowledge economy and create a more prosperous nation.

Vocational education also bridges the gap between ‘on-the-job’ training and a full bachelor’s qualification, with the shorter courses being infinitely more affordable than a university degree. Its more practical approach to education, balancing theory with hands-on ‘real life experience’, has been designed to harness the potential of students who do not learn best within traditional settings and do not necessarily want to continue with ‘academic’ subjects after high school. Vocational education is the gateway to a successful career, and my own professional life is a true demonstration of the benefits of this system of education and the myriad opportunities it provides.

After graduation from high school in the USA, I enrolled in a hospitality vocational education programme in upstate New York, as I was unsure whether I wanted to enter the family restaurant business.  During the two-year diploma course, I was taught by numerous talented and inspirational educators, who brought both their passion for the subject and real-life experience into the classroom. Their practical knowledge added context to the curriculum and brought the textbook to life; indeed, it was my teachers’ stories I remembered when I entered the workforce and had to manage challenging situations.

I was also required to undertake internships and work experience throughout the two-year course; during my holidays when I often worked two jobs in the industry, constantly adding to my experience, building my résumé and ensuring that I would be highly employable after graduating from the course. My high school friends in other curriculums however, spent their summers earning money through ‘odd jobs’ such as painting houses, without the same opportunity to gain valuable and relevant work experience for their future careers.

My two years at vocational college gave me self-esteem, self-confidence, real-world experience and taught me to be a better student. Many of my fellow students entered the hospitality industry after graduation and have had tremendous careers; some are leaders within globally-recognised companies and some now run their own businesses within the sector. Others, like myself, made the decision to return to academia; vocational education gave me the passion and drive to pursue my Bachelors and Masters and Doctorate degrees after a few years in industry, something I could not have contemplated without having first completed those two years of training.

Despite the recognised benefits of vocational education, Dubai has long faced a shortage of colleges dedicated to this type of training. In 2015, experts at TVET Week estimated that for each university graduate, the UAE needs 10 people with vocational skills to ensure sustainability within the workforce and create a diversified knowledge economy. However, according to a 2014 Deloitte study, only one to three per cent of Dubai’s students enroll in vocational education after high school, a significantly lower percentile than the global average (10 per cent) and vastly lower than countries such as Germany and Japan who have 40 to 50 per cent of students enrolling on vocational courses. This Deloitte predicted, could lead to labour shortages within key industries in the future. For example, Dubai’s tourism sector is set to employ a workforce of more than half-a-million by 2020, meaning that dedicated vocational training for the industry has never been more important.

Dubai Tourism launched DCT to fulfil this need and help hospitality and tourism companies in Dubai to build their workforce’s skills and help advance people’s careers. By having DCT lead training and development, organisations can do away with additional training costs and have access to a steady pipeline of highly-trained tourism professionals.

DCT will teach its students both soft and hard skills; from how to interview and project self-confidence, to key technical skills and the theory behind them, to practical ‘on-the-job’ experience. Additionally, we have established an ‘Advisory Board’ of industry professionals within Dubai’s Tourism Sector, that will ensure the course and faculties offered, reflect the unique opportunities and challenges presented by Dubai’s tourism industry, thereby meeting the needs of both learners and employers.

Ultimately, education in all its forms will provide knowledge, but you need passion in the subject to carry you the rest of the way. The aim of DCT is to ensure that anyone passionate about working Dubai’s tourism and hospitality industries, whether they are UAE Nationals, people who have grown up in the city or individuals new to the Emirate, can learn the skills and gain experience they need to enjoy a long and successful career in the sector. We see this as an important contribution to advancing Dubai, and preparing for 2020 and beyond.

For more, visit Applications for the college’s September 2018 intake are now open

Michael Petrillose is Academic Director, Dubai College of Tourism



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