China's Hotel Expansion Creates Huge Demand for Qualified Workers

Stephanie Ho

International companies have long sought to break into China's domestic market and tap hundreds of millions of potential new customers. One example is the Marriott hotel chain, which plans to open one new hotel a month for at least the next three years. However, as competition heats up, one of the toughest challenges is finding enough qualified employees.

Learning how to dress appropriately is one of the most basic lessons at the Beijing Hospitality Institute.

Although the tuition is much higher than at other colleges, students like Candy, from Anhui province, say the cost is worth it.

"My father said it was okay for me to study this if I can be trained in all sorts of skills and find a job afterwards, and if I can develop my career in a hotel in a big city," said Candy.

The school was established by private investors in 2008 and is graduating its first class this year. The students are taught English and all aspects of hospitality management, including special training in Chinese culture.

James, a third-year student from Guizhou province, relishes the chance to share his culture.

"Maybe tea is the best topic too - you are introducing tea and how to drink tea, and foreigners, they will feel [it's] very exciting," said James.

China is a manufacturing powerhouse, with a seemingly unlimited supply of labor.  But this school aims to solve one of the biggest struggles for international chains expanding in China: finding and keeping qualified service employees.

Marriott executives say that, although they have success retaining management, it is a struggle to keep lower-level positions filled. Sandra Ngan is a Marriott human resources manager.

"The single child policy -- honestly, that is the frequent feedback we hear from our competitors and also the hotel school as well," said Ngan.  "We have less and less young people willing to join the hotel industry. That is the challenge that we are facing right now."

Service jobs still carry some social stigma in China, so Ngan says it is also necessary to persuade Chinese parents to let their only child join what she calls the Marriott family. She learned the hard way when one trainee in Shanghai didn't show up for his first day of work.

"So we call home and then he was telling us, 'I really want to come, but my parents locked the door. My parents don't want me to work here,'" Ngan recalled.

Marriott already has 60 hotels in China. An aggressive growth plan envisions that number to reach 100 by the end of 2014.

Back at the Beijing Hospitality Institute, first-year students spend time in a hotel room to learn about what some of them say is their least favorite part of the job - housekeeping.

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