Written by Katrine Sonnenschein.

A significant number of Chinese international students are enrolled on tourism and hospitality degrees in Australia and they generally consider the industry as a booming and dynamic sector with interesting job opportunities. However, little research has been conducted on the career expectations of international students and graduates returning to their home country. The purpose of this article, therefore, is to investigate the career expectations of Chinese international students and returning Chinese graduates regarding their work prospects in the Chinese hospitality industry.

The hospitality industry in China is facing significant human resource challenges. These include the lack of qualified employees, high turnover rates among staff, a lack of interest among university graduates to enter the industry, and the gap between the curriculum taught in universities and the realities of the industry itself. Tourism and hospitality graduates often do not have realistic expectations of the industry, which can lead to disillusionment. Furthermore, people in Generation Y (i.e. those born between 1979 and 1994) prefer to work for managers who give them responsibility and flexibility. It is necessary for employers to understand the expectations of their future workforce in order to recruit and retain qualified staff in the competitive labour market of this industry.

This article draws on research from two distinct studies within a broader research project that investigated the career expectations of Chinese international students and returning graduates. The first of these, Study A, consisted of semi-structured interviews with Chinese international students. These were second-year and third-year students enrolled on the Bachelor of Business (International Tourism and Hotel Management and Hotel Management) at an Australian university in Southeast Queensland. Study B consisted of semi-structured interviews with Chinese graduates holding a Bachelor of Business (International Tourism and Hotel Management and Hotel Management) or a Masters of Business (International Tourism and Hospitality Management) from the same university. Some of those interviewed had work experience in Chinese hotels which ranged from less than one year to four years. They had worked as assistants, sales coordinators, and management trainees, and one had been a receptionist.

The data from Study A demonstrate that most of the Chinese international students interviewed modified their career expectations during their studies overseas. Only two students did not do so. One important cause of students changing their career expectations is the lack of suitable work experience which would provide them with relevant insights.

Wan et al. and Chang and Tse claim that students who have gained appropriate work experience during their studies are often more interested in looking for a position in the industry after graduation. Many international students have high expectations of finding professional employment in the host country during their studies, but often this does not come about. One reason is that some employers will not give work to foreign students – Chinese students in this case – because there is a limited chance that they will remain in Australia after graduation. Therefore, it does not seem like a profitable investment for them to provide training and development to these students. Other factors are the students’ insufficient English language skills and lack of understanding of the Australian workplace culture, as well as their lack of a professional network.

The six graduates interviewed for Study B were relatively satisfied with their current work situation in the Chinese hotel industry and were all working in international brand hotels. However, some of them felt that graduates returning to China generally do not have realistic expectations about the nature of the work. A lack of work experience during their studies can also lead to disillusionment among graduates when they discover the nature of the work they are supposed to do at the beginning of their career in the hotel sector. Wong and Ko agree that graduates entering the hotel industry face difficulties in adapting to the challenging working conditions.

The following suggestions are provided to assist students and graduates from programmes in the hospitality sector to develop realistic expectations about the work situation in the Chinese hotel industry.

First, universities should help create realistic expectations for international students about their future work prospects – the benefits to the Chinese students in this study would almost certainly benefit all international students more generally. For example, guest lectures by people working in hotels could provide students with insights into the hotel industry, and academic tutors also need to assist students in developing realistic expectations about salary and working conditions.

Moreover, the creation of more alumni community networks in China and Australia for students to meet other Chinese international students and graduates is recommended. In particular, the creation of an alumni network would help Chinese international students in Australia become connected to Chinese alumni from Australian universities who have experience working in the Chinese hotel industry. Alumni can also assist in recruitment activities in China where they can share their insights with potential students about their career path.

Finally, universities and the industry need to collaborate better to inform students about work in the hotel and hospitality sector; for example, through internships. The inclusion of internships as part the university curriculum is recommended as it would benefit international students by helping them develop more realistic expectations about their future careers. Internship opportunities for Chinese international students during their overseas studies would help them become more familiar with the industry in general. A lack of staff resources means that it is also a challenge for universities to assist students in finding internships. Therefore, more staff are needed to enable universities to assist and supervise internships for students in this field of study.

Katrine Sonnenschein is a Research Assistant in the Humanities Faculty at Aalborg University, Denmark. Image credit: CC and Flickr/ *bri*.

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