Used and Unappreciated: Exploring the Role Work Experience Plays in Shaping Undergraduate Tourism and Hospitality Students' Attitudes towards a Career in the Industry

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Cater, Carl

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Davidson, Michael

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It has been claimed that one of the major issues currently facing the tourism and hospitality industry worldwide, and Australia in particular, is the issue of labour and skills shortages. Current estimates indicate that there are up to 7,000 positions vacant in the tourism and hospitality industry in Australia. If estimates are accurate, over the next decade this number will rise to close to 100,000 unfilled positions in the industry in Australia. Due to the fragmented nature of the industry it is not well equipped to deal with the future challenges provided by these skills shortages.

Current figures suggest that approximately 2,500 students graduate from tourism and hospitality programs in Australia each year. The main issue facing tourism and hospitality recruiters is that there is evidence that many of these graduates are leaving the industry or even failing to enter the industry upon graduation. Therefore the purpose of this thesis is to examine how working in the industry impacts on students perception of the industry as a career path. The thesis also examines the ways in which tourism and hospitality employers are utilising students and graduates in their workforce. The project uses a methodological combination of a large online quantitative survey, interviews with industry managers and qualitative experiential ‘blogs’. The latter is an innovative research technique and offers a major methodological contribution.

The main findings of this study have identified that having direct experience working in the tourism and hospitality industry can cause students to acquire negative views towards pursuing a career in the industry. Of the 76% of respondents that had work experience in the tourism and hospitality industry, most were working, or had worked previously, in food and beverage in hotels, restaurants or bars. The majority of respondents were working in frontline positions, with many claiming that the experience of working in the industry had left them with a negative attitude towards a career in the industry. A troubling 42.4% of respondents who stated they had work experience claimed it was definite that they would not pursue a career in the industry, with almost all (92.6%) citing working in the industry as the main reason for this decision. This contrasts the fact that just 4.4% of those with no work experience claim they will not work in the industry. The main dimensions that respondents were unhappy with were those of pay/benefits, promotion opportunities and relationships with managers.

From the research conducted with employers investigating their utilisation of students and graduates it is clear that the majority of organisations are utilising students purely as casual staff members with no plans on developing these students into future managers within the organisation. Most organisations interviewed had no career planning for these students or plans to use them post graduation. The majority of the organisations could not even determine the number of students they had working for their company. Most of the students that were employed were in basic, low skilled, entry level positions with most working in food and beverage roles. Every organisation interviewed claimed that they did not treat students any differently to other staff and only two had any sort of training program for current students. Added to these issues is the issue of graduate employment. Of the employers interviewed only the international hotel chains stated that they actively recruited tourism and hospitality graduates, all of the other types of organisations did not actively recruit graduates of these programs. From this it could be argued that these organisations are missing out on the opportunity to develop these highly motivated and well trained students into managers of the future. This lack of training and development is adding to the negative views students’ hold of the industry and adding to the number of graduates failing to enter the industry upon graduation.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Tourism, Leisure, Hotel and Sport Management

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Tourism and Hospitality industry

undergraduate students


graduate employment

tourism and hospitality careers

work experience

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