Required And Acquired Level Of Graduates’ Skills In Hospitality Management


The concept of competencies have been widely documented, however little research has been done about required and acquired level of competencies in hospitality management. In this study, the competencies that are required of a hotel manager have been combined and grouped into several dimensions, we consider nine main competencies: teamwork, effective communication, enthusiasm, strategic thinking, problem solving, customer service focus, leading for results, planning and organizing and financial awareness. This paper has two major purposes: 1) to identify the level of self-confidence of the graduates about the competencies required by the labour-market at the end of their higher education studies and at the present moment; 2) to identify differences in graduates’ perceptions, in these two moments, about their competencies and skills. This study was based on a quantitative methodology. The study relied on an on-line survey research, applied to hospitality management graduates from six Portuguese Higher Education Institution. The data were analysed regarding their level of self- confidence in several competencies. We concluded that all competencies considered and required by the labour market have been considered relevant by graduates although at some of them with lower self-confidence than others. The soft competencies are those with higher level of self-confidence and the diverse contexts of learning seem to promote a level of greater confidence on the graduates.

Keywords: CompetenciesLabour MarketHospitality ManagementHigher Education


The centrality of competencies nowadays

In social sciences, the focus on competencies has occurred especially in the areas of work,

education and training. The importance of the concept of competencies, particularly in sociology, does

not correspond to a refusal or subordination of other concepts, such as qualifications. “We recognize that

in social sciences there is no unitary use of the concept of competence, no broadly accepted definition or

unifying theory” Rychen & Salganik (2000, p. 66). However, those who dispute the "increasing

importance attributed to competencies claim that these ignore and devalue disciplinary knowledge and

over-value practical use, in addition to putting pressure on the economic field" Avila (2005, p. 117).

Opposing this view, Philippe Perrenoud emerges as one of the main defenders of a guidance by

competencies in the school, arguing that learning has to be useful and that there are no competencies

without knowledge. In his opinion, "the recent preoccupation with competencies must be understood as

an added value, that is, how do I add, instead of removing, a new dimension, in other words, the capacity

to use knowledge to solve problems, build strategies or make decisions” Perrenoud, (2003, p. 13).

Developing competencies "from school" is, above all, a return to its origins, the reason of the own

school´s being.

As mentioned by Rychen & Salganik (2000), Le Boterf (2002), Parente (2004), Cabral-Cardoso,

Estevão, & Silva (2006) and Esteves (2009), the concept of competencies varies according to different

disciplinary approaches. First of all, we consider that competence should not be confused with

knowledge, since there is no competencies without knowledge. ”While the concept of competence refers

to the ability to meet demands of a high degree of complexity, and implies complex action systems, the

term knowledge applies to facts or ideas acquired by study, investigation, observation, or experience and

refers to a body of information that is understood. The term skill is used to designate the ability to use

one's knowledge with relative ease to perform relatively simple tasks” Rychen & Salganik (2000, p. 67).

In this sense, competencies are resources Le Boterf, (2000) or "knowledge in use" Malglaive

(1994, p. 125) and for Aníbal (2014, p.47), these "result from the conjugation of different knowledges

learned in different ways and their use as resources in the realization of a particular action ". For

Perrenoud (2003), competence is the added value of knowledge, the capacity to use it and solve problems,

and is related to the process of mobilizing or activating resources, such as knowledge, capabilities and

strategies in different types of situations.

In this sense, for Le Boterf (2000), competence is much more than a set of capabilities, knowledge,

abilities and attitudes. All these elements, with different combinations, can generate different

configurations since competence is "organized" as a system and because it is done in action. According to

Roldão (2002), competence is knowledge in use that requires a certain amount of integration and

mobilization of knowledge. Hence, it is important to underline that “competences can, and should be

understood as a willingness to act and not merely as a set of atomized behaviours or action schemes"

Avila (2005, 115). Thus, competence emerges when, faced with a situation, the individual is capable of

adequately mobilizing knowledges prior to taking action, selecting them and integrating them in a way

adjusted to the situation in question.

On the other hand, competences result from processes developed gradually, throughout the entire

educational process and that are evaluated in different stages and contexts. “Acquiring competencies is

viewed as an on-going, lifelong, learning process. “This process occurs in multiple settings. The settings

and social institutions relevant for the development of competencies besides school are family, peers,

work, political life, religious life, cultural life (…) It is also dependent on the quantity and quality of

learning opportunities Rychen & Salganik (2000, p. 67).

Assuming that competences refer to specific learned activities, which range widely in terms of

complexity, technical and specific skills (also call hard), have to do with the specificity of the knowledge

and techniques of a given profession/given function. These can be acquired through education and

technical training programs, through contexts of training or simulating of professional reality, like

internships. Dortch, cited by Rok (2013), considers that internships allows a structured apprenticeship

experience in a particular field of work. According to the author, the internship enables the student to

apply the knowledge learned, in today's labour market, helping to bridge the gap between theory and

practice. In another perspective, Brandenburg (2014) says that the experiences with international context,

like Erasmus mobility, participation on international events, focus on the opportunity to live a new

experience, meet different people, promote language proficiency, develop soft skills and enhance their

employability in international terms.

Hence, transversal competencies are usually acquired outside the educational context and are

essential for the adaptation to different work environments. According to Villa & Poblete (2008), a dual

position emerges, in other words, the competencies can be either seized throughout the academic course

or in the professional market, both are considered highly relevant for the professional future of the

students, both in terms of employability and citizenship. Transversal or soft competencies “can be

triggered in a multiple number of situations, from a professional domain to a personal domain, and

therefore, they are "transversal" or common, to different domains (by contrast, for example, specific or

hard competencies are limited to a certain professional activity), recognizing their importance, and even

the "fundamental" character, in different spheres of life "Ávila, (2005, p 123). Valente (2014) exemplifies

this type of competence by referring to the knowledge and know-hows that allow, in particular, to

demonstrate the ability to work collaboratively, the initiative and the entrepreneurial attitude, even when

working for others, the availability to work and "will to volunteer help". Hence, we can conclude that

"soft competencies have more to do with who we are than what we know" Robles (2012, p. 458). In

addition, according to Coke (1999), practical or hard competencies can quickly become obsolete when

facing sudden technological and social changes, so it will be important for organizations to invest in

someone who has learned to manage their knowledge and who is better prepared to adapt to change.

According to Valente (2014), these are aspects with increased value to companies.

The competencies in Hotel management

Cited by Brophy & Kiely (2002), Boam and Sparrow suggest that the two main factors that led to

the rise of an approach by competencies in organizations were, on one hand, the large-scale failure of the

programs of necessary changes about individual behaviour, and on the other hand, the increasing bond

between employee skills and business performance. In recent years this business world has been

pressuring society about the development and creation of new skills in companies. "Standing out from

this pressure are new technologies, concern for quality, greater flexibility and agility, the provision of

resources, new competition agreements, the internationalization of business and the power of

information" Brophy & Kiely (2002, p. 165). For Van der Klink, Boon, & Schlusmans (2007), the labour

market, is characterized by an increasing unpredictability of the future and the associated uncertainty

regarding the relevant skills. Brophy & Kiely (2002) describe skills as the glue that binds the organization

as a whole, in a holistic view about people, purpose, processes, and performance.

Since the tourism industry is considered by the World Tourism Organization (WTO), the peace

industry, tourist activity in general and hotel industry, in particular, are bound to promote the relationship

between individuals, the provision of quality services to which the level of skills and training of its human

resources plays a decisive role. In addition, tourism is an intensive work activity and, as such, training

plays a decisive role in the preparation and qualification of the people involved in tourism and in the

quality of tourism. Thus, according to Henriques (2005), the institutions of higher education have the

responsibility to establish curricular programs that contribute to building profiles and competences that

are adequate to the present and future needs of the labor market. However, for Baum (2002), tourism

schools, traditionally focused on providing technical and scientific knowledge, have neglected the

development of transversal competencies and skills. Chimutingiza, Mwando, & Kazembe (2012),

referring specifically to Hotel Management, consider that graduates need a set of transversal

competencies, namely, decision-making and problem-solving skills, teamwork, initiative and

interpersonal skills, so that they can work effectively in the workplace. Baum (2002) argues that,

historically, hospitality skills were mainly associated to technical requirements, and this was the basis for

defining the curricula taught in different European institutions. However, the changes in the contemporary

society and in the current labour market, where the impact of technologies, expectations and the current

customer’s typology of needs, provoked a reassessment of the role of technical and transversal skills in


In this study, we adapted the typology used by the "Hotel Management Skillnet" project developed

by Brophy & Kiely (2002)), in which, the competencies that are required of a hotel manager have been

combined and grouped into several dimensions. Since "many skills are needed to perform more than one

aspect of the profession" Brophy & Kiely (2002, p. 168), we consider nine main competencies (Brophy &

Kiely’s dimensions) - teamwork, effective communication, enthusiasm, strategic thinking, problem

solving, customer service focus, leading for results, planning and organizing and financial awareness.

Each competence comprises two examples of skills required by the education-training system and

required for the job-work system, a hard skill and a soft skill (Table 1 ).

This systematization brings together the contributions of Brophy & Kiely (2002), on the

dimensions of competencies required for hotel management as well as the contributions of Baum (2002),

Beneitone, et al. (2007), Hoffmann (1999), Robles (2012), Valente (2014) and Van der Klink, Boon, &

Schlusmans (2007) as to the type of competencies required of a hotel management graduate.

Table 1 -
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Problem Statement

The competencies required to the higher education graduates is a relevant issue today as well as an

important research subject (Aníbal, 2014; Ávila, 2005; Beneitone, et al., 2007; Cabral-Cardoso, et al,

2006; Esteves, 2009; Le Boterf, 2000; 2002; Parente, 2004; Perrenoud, 2003; Roldão, 2002). However, it

is still little explored in scientific research on the specific case of activities linked to hospitality

management graduates (Baum, 2002; Brophy & Kiely, 2002; Gata et al, 2014; Robles, 2012, Wilks &

Hemsworth, 2011).

Research Questions

For this study, we designed the following research question: How do hospitality management

graduates face their competencies at the end of their higher education studies and at the present moment?

Purpose of the Study

This study has two major purposes: 1) to identify the level of self-confidence of the graduates

about the competencies required by the labour-market at the end of their higher education studies and at

the present moment; 2) to identify differences in graduates’ perceptions, in these two moments, about

their competencies and skills.

Research Methods


The participants are graduates in Hotel Management of six Portuguese public institutions of

politecnical higher education, between 2006/2007 and 2013/2014 exceeds 1800, as can be seen in table 2 .

The number of respondents was 398, which represents 24.14% of the universe (table 2 ). 219 are women

and 179 are men; they are aged between 21 and 60, with an average age of 27 years old; almost all (388 –

97.5%) are Portuguese.

Table 2 -
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Data collection and analysis

This study, framed in a wider research that we are developing in our PhD thesis in Education, was

based on a quantitative methodology. The study relied on an on-line survey research, applied to

hospitality management graduates, between 7th of January and 6th of March of 2016. The data were

statistically processed using the SPSS software and a descriptive analyses was done.


The results demonstrate that at the present time the professionals show levels of confidence in their

competencies significantly higher than those at the end of their graduation. The self-confidence about soft

competencies is higher than the hard one. In global terms, that is, by analysing the set of hard skills and

soft skills, graduates demonstrate a significant increase in their confidence levels (Table 3 ).

Table 3 -
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As shown in table 4 , all competencies demonstrate an increase in the level of trust and among

them, stand out the customer service focus and enthusiasm with higher values. Problem solving is the

competence that has the highest increase in the level of confidence, among two moments. In all required

competencies, the mean of level of trust is higher than 3 in a scale between 1 and 5. The highest level of

trust is on customer service focus and the lowest is on the financial awareness. At the end of the course

none competencie have a mean up than level 4 but at the presente time just the competencies Leading for

results, planinig and organising and financial awareness have lower than that level.

Table 4 -
See Full Size >

Internships are significant contexts of learning, so it is important to analyze the influence of them

on the self-confidence of the graduates at the end of their course. It was expected that the graduates with

experiences of internships (curricular or extracurricular) during their higher education training would

reveal higher levels of trust in their competencies, when compared to those who did not have such

experience. The results show that paradoxically, in present time, all levels of confidence had a higher

level for the respondents who had no experience of internship (Table 5 ).

Table 5 -
See Full Size >

At the end of their course, the students who worked during the last year of their course

demonstrated a higher level of confidence in their competencies and amongst them the lowest confidence

level is in the financial awareness and planning and organization dimension meanwhile the highest level

is in customer service focus (Table 6 ).

Table 6 -
See Full Size >

Experiences in international contexts are, also, significant contexts of learning and the graduates

who had those demonstrate lower levels of confidence when they have finished their course, but at

present time they are the ones with the highest levels of confidence in the various dimensions of

competencies required. The financial awareness competence has the lowest level of confidence

demonstrated by graduates and customer service focus is the one that demonstrates the greatest level of

confidence in both moments (Table 7 ).

Table 7 -
See Full Size >


Graduates confidence levels in the various competencies required by the labour market is higher at

the present time compared to when the graduates finished their course. The soft competencies are those

with higher level of self-confidence.

At present time the level of confidence is higher than 4 in all the required competencies. Customer

service focus, effective communication and problem solving are those competencies that reveal highest

increase at the level of self-confidence at this moment.

Professional experience demonstrates being a context of development of confidence level by the

graduates, which is in line with the postulated by Roldão (2002), Perrenoud, (2003) and Rychen &

Salganik (2000).

Like the studies by Beneitone, et al. (2007), Rok (2013) and Villa & Poblete (2008), the

internships are contexts of learning however, and paradoxically those who did not participate in such

experiences demonstrated higher levels of confidence in their competencies. This results need further

research in order to understand the reason of that.

At the same time, graduates with mobility experiences and experiences in international contexts

demonstrate higher levels of confidence, at the present time, compared to those who did not have it during

their training course, in accordance of Brandenburg (2014), specifically in relation to soft competencies,

which agrees with Chimutingiza, Mwando, & Kazembe (2012) and Valente (2014), although at the end of

their course they had a lower level of self-confidence in their competencies.

Graduates who had the status of worker-student during the last year of graduation are those who

demonstrate a superior level of confidence in all competencies and at the both analysed moments.

Globally, soft competencies are considered the most required and those that the graduates

demonstrate to have a superior level of confidence in the present time, compared to the moment of the

end of its course, this fact complies with what was defended by (Baum, 2002), who argues that the

fundamental competencies in hospitality are the transversal ones, since techniques can quickly become


As in the Skillnet project, developed by Brophy & Kiely (2002), all competencies considered and

required by the labour market have been considered relevant by graduates, although the competence of

financial awareness is the one where confidence levels are low at the present time and at the end of the

hospitality management degree.

This research shows, also, that the competencies required to the labour market of hospitality

management are of great diversity and the graduates consider all of them with positive self-confidence in

the end of their course and with highest level of confidence at present time.

The diverse contexts of learning seem to promote a level of greater confidence on the graduates.

The professional experience is the context of greater enrichment, which is in agreement with the postulate

by Rychen & Salganik (2000).

Additionally, this research is important, also, for the field of higher education because they can

improve those competencies in their curricula and promote them for the future graduates.


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Melo,  ., & Gonçalves, M. (2017). Required And Acquired Level Of Graduates’ Skills In Hospitality Management. In Z. Bekirogullari, M. Y. Minas, & R. X. Thambusamy (Eds.), Cognitive - Social, and Behavioural Sciences - icCSBs 2017, January, vol 20. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 206-216). Future Academy.