Students get a leg up in tourism

A new programme for Caymanian students is gaining accolades from participants and industry professionals alike as it takes on uncharted waters in an effort to fill a vacuum in Cayman’s tourism industry.

The 38-week Tourism Apprenticeship Training Programme is designed to create a cadre of Caymanian hospitality professionals.

The programme’s aim is to provide vocational skills and on-the-job training, as well as classroom learning to boost Caymanian participation in all aspects of the sector.

The 17 students enrolled in the inaugural year of the TATP are now entering the final stretch of their studies.

‘By all accounts the first term of the Tourism Apprenticeship Training Programme was a success,’ said Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford.

‘We are well on the way to achieving our goal of increasing the number of qualified Caymanians in the tourism workforce and bringing some much needed stability to the industry.’

Applicants to the TATP compete for a scholarship to take the first steps toward earning the internationally recognized CaribCert professional certification, a programme that has established standards for 45 critical occupations in the tourism and hospitality industry.

The scholarship students are selected through an interview process and acceptance is not academically based but rather based on a willingness to enter the hospitality field.

‘If you show interest, we will give you the foundation, and if you pass, you will be given the opportunity to train for a great career,’ says course coordinator and instructor Belinda Blessit-Vincent.

The CaribCert scholarship students receive a stipend, a laptop computer and their tuition is paid as are all their school materials and books and the students all receive uniforms.

In their first term, TATP students take foundation courses at the UCCI and ICCI campuses in computers, communications, customer service, basic math skills, locally-focused sustainable tourism studies, and professional, personal and workplace development with a focus on such aspects as public speaking, time management and etiquette.

So far, the results are encouraging. The majority of students passed the foundation courses and those who were unsuccessful will be given an opportunity to repeat while still continuing with their second term technical studies.

The second term will see the students combine three days in the classroom and two days of work experience per week to develop the core competencies required for the areas of concentration – front office operations, food preparation, food and beverage operations and housekeeping supervisory.

Ms Blessitt-Vincent says it is essential that students train for specific technical skills.

‘The students are excited, especially those who have been out of school for a while. They did not know they could do this, and thanks to the private sector in providing work experience, these students can now work at these organisations when they are done.’

The programme runs from September to July when the students write their CaribCert exams to certify them in their chosen area.

Indeed, in her class of 13, students range from recent graduates, people who left school for the workforce, and those who have expressed an interest in the sector.

The foundation courses are split between ICCI and UCCI, with students then concentrating on one campus or the other depending on the stream they will be joining.

Ms Blessitt Vincent says she is impressed by how much UCCI has put into the programme, building a hospitality suite with a kitchen, dining room, front office lab and purchasing hospitality software like Fidelio, which students can train on.

‘If you can go in with that skill already learning about room types, for example, you are ahead of the game because you know the language of the hospitality industry,’ said Mrs. Blessitt Vincent.

Edith Mattis sees the TATP as the chance to fulfil her life long dream of interacting with people on a daily basis through working in a hotel front office.

‘Having the certificate will say a lot to a potential employer about my ability to do the job. It hasn’t been easy and I’ve worked very hard to meet each new challenge. When I’ve completed the programme, I believe it will be a big push for me towards achieving my career goals,’ she says.

Herman Harris, who successfully juggles a job as houseman at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman with his studies, thought that the foundation courses were excellent.

‘The tourism class was very important for me as it taught skills relevant to the industry I work in,’ he said.

Minister Clifford says the response from the private sector has been phenomenal.

Most of the major hotels are involved in the pilot, including the Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa, Grand Cayman Beach Suites, The Reef Resort, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.

The CaribCert programme is not the same as a similar programme run at UCCI in tourism and hospitality management, but students in both programs have the opportunity to enter an academic stream leading to the associate’s degree.

‘The programme is going well for its pilot year,’ said Kira Hayes Ebanks, business manager and instructor at ICCI.

‘The Ministry and Department of Tourism and the Tourism Apprenticeship Advisory Council have invested a lot of time, energy and resources into making it work. UCCI and ICCI created an effective partnership, which has allowed us to administer the programme successfully using the strengths of both institutions. We are really hoping this is going to work, as the students are being handed such an incredible opportunity.’

FYI

For more information on the TATP, contact Ms. Alma McKenzie at the Department of Tourism on 949-0623.

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