Young Upstarts

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[Interview] PSB Academy: Up-Skilling In A New Learning Economy

PSB Academy

Last November, the fourth edition of the JobsCentral Learning Training & Education Development (T.E.D) Awards celebrated 15 winners who are industry leaders in skills development in Singapore. These course providers were awarded for their innovation towards learning across different industries, especially during a time when Singaporeans look to re-skill and up-skill themselves in a challenging jobs landscape.

One of the winners at the awards was PSB Academy. We speak to Dr Melissa Liow, Assistant Head, School of Business and Management, PSB Academy (Programme Leader for the their Hospitality and Tourism programmes), Dr Liau Vui Kien, Head, School of Engineering and Technology, PSB Academy, as well as Dr Sam Choon Yin, Dean, PSB Academy and Head, School of Business and Management, PSB Academy on their views on trends in the hospitality and tourism sector for up-skilling, as well as the kind of skillsets entrepreneurs need.

Why are more people up-skilling themselves in the Tourism and Hospitality sector?

Dr Liow: The economy is shrinking and travellers are spending less. This accentuates the need for talents in the hospitality industry to harness the power of digital marketing and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, in preparation for the Hospitality 4.0 wave. It will enable individuals to understand the travellers’ needs and expectations intimately which can result in new hospitality business models. Intermediation and re-intermediation of tourism channel partners such as Airbnb can happen too. Hence, there is a greater need for hospitality professionals to possess both hospitality and entrepreneurship skills.

How do the courses offered by Private Education Institutes (PEIs) such as PSB Academy help change the current talent pool?

Dr Liow: The courses offered are underpinned with the goal to groom students to be ready for the Hospitality 4.0 wave.

The syllabus is centred on responsible and social entrepreneurship on top of hospitality management. Through the course, students have the opportunity to work on strategic marketing plans, considering globalisation and its impact on the hospitality businesses. Students can also exercise their creativity and offer innovative ideas to boost a tourist destination. They will also conduct a post- mortem to examine the impact of the 3Ps (people, planet and profits), and recommend corrective actions to improve the company’s performance. This include introducing new packages, and developing new collaborations or partnerships with other local and regional tourism suppliers.

What is the ultimate goal of receiving a higher education in this field / industry for most of your graduates?

Dr Liow: Most students’ ultimate goal is to graduate as a hospitality professional with the right mindset and skills to be ready for the Hospitality 4.0 wave.

They understand the need to constantly improve in order to develop resilient hospitality business models hand-in-hand with their employers. They also seek to create value for hospitality companies by tailoring to the needs of emerging travelling market niches.

There is a trend toward upskilling and higher education. Why do you think this is happening now during this economic climate?

Dr Liow: There have been concerns if education institutions are engaging the corporate hospitality sector enough to prepare their graduates for the Hospitality 4.0 wave.

There is an increasing need to raise hospitality graduates who have multidisciplinary knowledge, skills, and abilities. For example, in hospitality and digital marketing; hospitality and entrepreneurship; hospitality and IT, hospitality and engineering, just to name a few.

What are the key things which Young Upstarts should take note of when entering the tourism & hospitality industry?

Dr Liow: It is crucial to have an open mind when entering the tourism and hospitality industry. One must have a huge appetite to learn novel skills.

It is also important to not be afraid even after failing to launch new tourism products or business models. One must continue to be creative and innovative to enhance the product or business model concept. This creates a sustainable competitive advantage for the business, and ensures a more secured future for stakeholders such as investors, employees, suppliers, and tourism partners.

What are some success stories you can share (of any recent graduates)?

Dr Liow: We had one recent graduate who decided to join forces with his dad to manage the family-owned backpackers chain in Yangon, Myanmar.

The search of capable manpower in the city he lives in is a constant challenge. Hence, he looked to restructure the workforce by introducing robots for the more routine tasks such as check-in and check-out services.

Given that the bulk of his visitors comprise Gen Y and Z travellers, he gathered that this group of travellers seek ‘fun, adventure, and thrill’. Thus, he wants to introduce mobile applications, and enhance website features to harness AI which will enable greater personalisation for guests.

These changes have been implemented since mid-2019, and he has seen an increase in visitor compliments. Visitors are more keen to share their positive reviews and experiences on online travel sites, and their circle of friends and family.

Are there any specific courses which are beneficial for any entrepreneur-to-be? Please share/ describe.

Dr Liau: It is important to keep an open mind, and to have passion in learning. It is not about what course, but rather the right mindset of learning, and being able to apply the knowledge on real practical problems.

For an entrepreneur to be successful, the business must be able to solve a particular problem and there will be demand from customers. A successful entrepreneur is actually an innovative person who is capable in solving problems much better than other competitors. One common mistake by people is they limit their scope of learning to a very narrow field. It should not be the case as learning will have no meaning at all if it cannot solve real problems, which are complex in nature than regular textbook sums.

Nowadays, as problems get more complicated, having the exposure to a range of courses, be it in coding, cyber security, hospitality, economics, et cetera will be helpful. Such short courses are widely available from both public and private institutions. For example, at PSB Academy, we provide short professional courses from Accounting to Business and Marketing to help professionals and leaders appreciate the intricacies of each business function.

It is also important to take courses that would be closely relevant to practical application. That is why at PSB Academy, we make effort to build associations and form partnerships with brands and industry bodies as they keep us grounded in industry relevancy. They also help students build valuable professional relationships and networks that will ease them into the industry as fresh graduates or get help from peers in middle management. At the School of Engineering and Technology for example, we have connections with the Institution of Engineering and Technology Singapore, Singapore Computer Society and Institution for Engineers Singapore.

How would this help cross-industry?

Dr Liau: Any product and services offered nowadays involve complicated process, skillset, and technology. Businesses that do not adopt new technology will lose their presence over time. For example, if we look at the food industry today, technology plays a very important role in ensuring quality food are harvested, processed, cooked, marketed, and distributed.

Technology or skills in a particular industry may be adopted for a totally new industry. For example, James Dyson had an idea to invent a bagless vacuum cleaner, after he has successfully built an industrial cyclone tower for a factory that separated paint particles from the air using centrifugal force. Of course, he also had the experience of being frustrated whenever he cleaned his carpet using the vacuum cleaner. The concept of centrifugal force is simple as any high school science students would have learnt in his physics course, but it took James Dyson 5 years and 5127 prototypes before the first bagless vacuum cleaner invented really worked.

3. Tech courses are now highly evolved (include data analytics, more coding, etc). Is this now a must for all young upstarts?

Dr Liau: In my view, there are tons and tons of new technology invented every day. However, different technology will mature at different time to serve different needs. The better questions to ask oneself is actually, “How would the new course benefit my current business and improve my current product/service?”. I would see coding, artificial intelligence, cyber security as a necessary skillset for everyone for the future – or at least, be data-literate enough to understand the type of jargon used, processes that are involved in such functions and be able to analyse necessary data presented in a situation related to their business. It would be just like how almost everyone these days are expected to have the skills of doing a presentation, edit a word document, and to access information from the internet.

Dr Sam: You do not have to be trained in coding or programming to be a successful entrepreneur. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a classic liberal arts and a psychology major student.

An entrepreneur should possess skills and capability to attack problems with the creativity, approaches, technical skills and nuanced reasoning to assess alternatives to bring about a better solution. That is, he or she needs to have broad knowledge from various disciplines (history, philosophy, sciences, creative writing) and the ability to collect, organise and analyse facts and opinions.

Entrepreneurs to be have to be lifelong learners, never satisfied with the current version of their offerings and always eager to keep improving. An inquisitive mind is the virtue of an entrepreneur.

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Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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