International College of Management, Sydney (ICMS) academic Dr Stuart Wiggins’ research into how best to prepare hospitality students to be ready to work in hotels in the first year of their studies has earned him a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the field of Higher Education.
Wiggins is currently the Pro Vice Chancellor (Employability) and Registrar at ICMS, as well as a member of the Academic Board and ICMS Executive Management Team. His doctorate was awarded by the University of Tasmania in September 2022.
His thesis, Facilitating Hotel Employability Capabilities for Students in Australian Undergraduate Hospitality Management Programs, seeks to understand how careers that traditionally had vocational education as their foundations, such as nursing and hospitality management, could adapt to the higher education sector in a way that produces students and graduates that their industries see as capable.
“The driver of my research was to give more insight into how best to prepare hospitality students to be ready to work in hotels in the first year of their studies,” Wiggins said.
“There is a lot of research available on what the perfect graduate should be capable of to be employable at the culmination of their studies, but very little research on the capabilities that will allow students to access work while they are studying. That is the gap that my research aims to address.”
A key differentiator of hospitality students is that they are often already employed before they graduate, or even before enrolling in their course of study.
“This positions the role of hospitality management degrees differently from most other professions which require degree qualifications for entry-level positions. For example, hospitality management students, often in their first year of study apply for, or are recruited for, entry-level employment positions,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins’ extensive research demonstrated how the hotel sector and hospitality management higher education providers should work together towards the ultimate goal of properly equipping and preparing students for leadership roles in the hospitality industry, mindful of the unique circumstances of an industry where many students are already working before or during further study.
In many other professions, graduates enter industry with a comparatively short internship or no experience at all, resulting in a clear line between where higher education ends and workplace training begins.
“Because graduate employability and entry-level employability are not the same in this field of study and profession, employment should be conceived as a continuum; hospitality management curriculum frameworks should reflect this seamless nature of hospitality training, with workplace engagement commonplace throughout formal studying,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins’ research method included a first phase of qualitative interviews, focus groups and questionnaires with students, graduates and human resources managers interviewed as stakeholders.
Critically, the human resources managers were included as industry representatives to encourage positive collaboration and partnership between the hotel sector and the higher education institutes training future leaders in the industry.
Following this phase, the themes emerging from the qualitative phase were examined further through the use of a survey instrument based on that developed by Dawson et al (2011) to identify the characteristics of a hospitality worker. The resultant quantitative data was examined and findings extrapolated to refine and deepen the understanding of how to best prepare graduates for hotel work, and to inform a proposed employability framework for the hospitality management curriculum.
The research resulted in the identification of six capabilities that facilitate success at entry level in hotels. These capabilities, with a hospitality focus, are mainly service and human-skills-based. Examples of these include principles, hospitality knowledge and skills, and leadership, as well as the student demonstrating dependability, being detail oriented and being able to communicate effectively.
The proposed curriculum framework took into account key education theories and the perceptions of key stakeholders, and is designed to enable the progressive development of knowledge and skills through increasing levels of complexity and independence.
“The ideal hospitality curriculum should incorporate preparation for early real-work experiences, and regular engagement, thereafter, with the professional community across the program of study to enable students’ development of industry-specific skills and knowledge and human skills,” Wiggins said.
“I argue that this framework will assist students to develop the characteristics that make up what I have identified as ‘the hotel phenotype’, which refers to the characteristics that the professional community of practice will identify with as consistent with a member of their community.”
‘Phenotype’ refers to easily observable traits; in this case referring to an ideal where students transform into professionals instantly recognisable, through their workplace actions, as hospitality specialists.
A best case scenario for the success of the proposed model, would be a partnership between the higher education provider and the hotel sector, where real world training happens alongside formal academic teaching.
Students are able to cultivate the described capabilities through the duration of their hospitality studies and be able to demonstrate the continued growth of these qualities in the workplace while studying, ultimately graduating as well-rounded, professional and successful management candidates.
Wiggins’ research focuses primarily on hospitality management students and graduates, but parallels can be drawn across disciplines.
“Although the research was focused on the hotel sector of the hospitality industry in Australia, the findings will be potentially informative for similar studies in undergraduate education for other industries in which students like to, or are expected to, work in the sector prior to their graduation,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins’ journey to a doctorate started with a Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management HND from Bournemouth University, followed by a career in hotels – including being instrumental in the opening of the Sydney Marriott (now the Pullman on Hyde Park) and the acclaimed Merrion Hotel, Dublin – before moving two decades ago into academia and lecturing. He also holds a Certificate in Education (Post-Compulsory Education) from the University of Northampton and a Postgraduate Certificate in Research Methods from Macquarie University.
Completing a doctoral thesis is a momentous undertaking, and ICMS congratulates Wiggins on the achievement of his doctorate.
“I completed the PhD as a part time student, balancing the demands of a full-time job and a growing family. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve managed to get the PhD while not missing my children’s football matches or a dance competitions along the way,” Wiggins said.
“A PhD can become all consuming, but if you maintain the right balance and are prepared to dig deep into your reserves of perseverance, you will learn huge amounts along the way, and reaching the finish line is very satisfying!”
Wiggins plans on sharing the findings of his research through upcoming publications and conference papers.
For more information on Facilitating entry level employability capabilities for students in Australian undergraduate hospitality management programmes, contact Stuart Wiggins at [email protected].
To connect with Stuart Wiggins on LinkedIn, click here.
For more information on the ICMS Bachelor of Hospitality Management, click here.
Auld, C., Allen, V., Flynn, A-M., Hill, M., James, B., McMorran, V., Menge, A., Petrov, L. & Wiggins, S. (2017). Private higher education providers: Push and pull factors. TEQSA 2017 Annual Conference
Wiggins, S. (2013). Applied higher education, professional capability and the Graduate Employability Indicators (GEI). THE-ICE International Panel of Experts Forum 2013, Sydney, Australia. (Awarded best paper)
Wiggins, S. (2010). Culture Induction and Hospitality Culture Capabilities 1 in CAUTHE 2010: Challenge the Limits. CAUTHE Conference proceedings 2010, University of Tasmania – TAS, ISBN 9781862955608
Wiggins, S. (2014). Blended Learning – Is it really achievable? Service Skills Australia 2014 Conference. Engage Empower Excel – Connecting Skills and the Workforce. Sydney, March 2014
Wiggins, S. (2011). New Hospitality Management Students’ Perception of Capability. Asia Pacific Forum for Graduate Student Research. UNLV, Singapore, July 2011.
Wiggins, S. (2011). The Australian Teaching and Learning Context. Asia Pacific Forum for Graduate Student Research. UNLV, Singapore, July 2011.
Wiggins, S. and Brown, G.B. (2010). Employability and capability through applied education: The “Think” approach. ALTC Forum. Graduate capabilities: Mapping, assessing and evaluating achievement. Melbourne, November 2010.
Best Paper Award THE-ICE 7th International Panel of Experts Forum 2013, Sydney, Australia.