Higher education and skills in Culinary Arts and Hotel Administration post-COVID-19

Chef Thirugnanasambantham WGSHA

Chef K Thiru

The Hospitality industry has been facing challenges in the wake of COVID-19 due to the closure of hotels and restaurants. However, with the gradual revival of business in compliance with various norms, the industry will soon bounce back.

In this backdrop, we caught up with Chef. K. Thirugnanasambantham K, Principal and Head of the Institution, Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration (WGSHA), Manipal to learn about how academia is continuing with the courses and keeping students motivated through online and blended learning. Learn more from the excerpts of our conversation and watch the video below for the complete interview.

Q: With prevailing uncertain times, what is your message to students who want to get into the field of Culinary Arts and Hotel Administration?

A: First, I would say there is no need to panic and worry! There is a lot of scope in the Hospitality industry. At our institute, apart from teaching the core subjects, we work as a finishing school and provide all-round development to the students. Today, there is a lot of talk about alternative career options and students need to prepare themselves for that. I have a student who started her career in a hotel, then moved to a restaurant, then to a 5-star hotel, and then moved to hospital catering.

There are a number of options and this industry is ever-shining. The industry will bounce back with new innovations and advancements in technology. This is the only industry where the human touch is required. Technology can be in place but the warmth or the emotion with which a person greets or interacts with cannot be done by a robot. 

Students must take these times as a challenge and put themselves in the place of a business manager to think of innovative solutions for the industry. Try and learn new skills, develop your skillset. They need to have special skills, the right attitude and be updated with all the happenings in the industry. They must be well aware of at least 5 or 6 regional languages along with regional cuisines. To be able to find global opportunities one should additionally learn a foreign language. The time outside the campus can be utilized for this. With confidence, determination, and passion everything will fall in place.

Higher education and skills in Culinary Arts and Hotel Administration post - COVID-19Q: How did WGSHA and its faculty cope with disruption in learning due to COVID-19?

A: COVID-19 has impacted every industry and educational institution and WGSHA was no exception. We had to immediately shift to the online mode of teaching. We got our faculty trained in online teaching and how to use various tools. As a matter of fact, the Hospitality industry is more hands-on than theory. While we all had to stay at home and yet continue teaching, all my colleagues made few videos from their homes in cooking, house-keeping, etc. based on their field of specialization. Though we were forced to do it, this was a great learning experience!

We held a series of meetings to understand the students’ requirements and created a plan. Currently, we are completing all the theory sessions for the current batch of students. Only when students come back to the campus, we plan to take up the practical subjects.

Q: How did you ensure your students to get adapted to the new mode of learning?

A: In a way, we had to convince our students why we have to move to online learning. We explained both the pros and cons of this approach. It was good to see the support from the parents, students, and of course, the faculty.

As an institute, we always believed in Experiential and Immersive Learning. Since remote learning implied the students would miss campus life, we conducted many webinars with industry veterans, who would address the students on what kind of problems the industry is facing, how to cope with it, and how students should prepare themselves for the future, and so on.

Though the students are at home, we are conducting various in-house competitions like family recipes or forgotten recipes, towel art, indigenous ingredients to make mocktails, etc. This has helped in keeping the students motivated and engaged through practical activities. 

Q: With changing industry norms and handling new protocols, are you making any changes to the curriculum?

A: At WGSHA, we have always been updating our curriculum irrespective of the COVID-19 situation. But while talking about this specifically with reference to COVID-19, we are in touch with industry people to update the curriculum based on the changes in the industry. Students need to get updated themselves with the latest happenings in the field in and around the world. They should not miss even a thing. Being flexible is the current requirement of the industry.

Our faculty are constantly addressing the students with the latest happenings in their respective subjects. Along with this, the physical and mental well-being of the student is also very important during these times. This is something I would like to add to the module.

Related Article: The revival of Tourism and Hospitality Industry post-COVID-19: Skills, jobs, and entrepreneurship – Read More: https://www.nationalskillsnetwork.in/the-revival-of-tourism-and-hospitality-industry-post-covid-19-skills-jobs-and-entrepreneurship/

Q: Could you brief us about your journey so far to inspire young aspirants in this industry.

A: To begin with, I did my B.Sc. in Nutrition and Food Service Management. I was supposed to pursue textile engineering or Chemistry, but then I ended up taking the course in Nutrition. Then I started working with the Taj Group of Hotels. Whatever I am today is because of the training and mentorship I got there.

Teaching was by chance and now I have completed 21 years of experience in the teaching career. It is here in WGSHA that I started my career as faculty and rose to be the Principal. There were a lot of chances for my empowerment and growth. I always believed in doing much more than what my job description says. Getting expertise, participating in many activities, I always involved myself with things outside the classroom. Along with this, I used to conduct a weekend dinner buffet with my students. I encouraged my students to come with me even after the college hours and participate in these gatherings. Today, being purely academic is not enough. One should be constantly in touch with skills and keep updating oneself.

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