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Leanne Baker - Lecturer and Internship Coordinator, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Southern Cross University

Leanne Baker
'We work with the students extensively so that they can decide which industry sector and which employers are going to be most suited to them and their career aspirations.'

Leanne is a lecturer who practises what she preaches. The tourism professional and avid traveller runs the internship program at Southern Cross University so tourism and hospitality students can come to grips with what the industry is really about.



What does your job involve?

I work with students in the second and third years of their tourism and hospitality degrees to make sure that they are job and industry ready. I make sure they've got all the skills to write excellent job applications and resumes, and that students know where to go to look for information, how to get industry contacts, and how to follow up on applications.

The other part of my job is to liaise with the industry to set up internship placements, and establish awareness about the programme. I also supervise the students while they're working and doing their internship. There's a lot of variety!

What qualifications do you have?

I have an honours degree in business tourism and I'm studying for a PhD.

Was your degree necessary for the jobs you've had?

Absolutely. I wouldn't have this job without a degree.

You've worked in the business sector as well as in marketing. What skills did you acquire in these industries?

My experience gave me a hands-on knowledge of how the tourism industry works. I've worked in hotels, resorts and clubs. This gave me a glimpse of the marketing side of things. Nothing beats that practical, inside knowledge of the industry you're promoting.

What's your most memorable overseas job experience?

Working for the Japan Travel Bureau in Japan. I really enjoyed being able to work in another country, using another language and learning about how their businesses operate and how they network. But it's the friendships that you make that are the most memorable.

Do industry rules change depending on the country you're in?

Tourism standards and rules are very location specific. Different countries have different operating systems and different structures.

For example, one of our students is doing his internship in Laos at the moment and he's saying to me, 'Leanne! One of the big difficulties I have is to get people not to eat the wildlife!' In class, that's not something we would have thought to prepare students for. It's important to have cultural sensitivity and to be aware of cultural differences.

Is it possible to learn culture-specific practices on the job or is it necessary to do some formal training?

I think it's important to do both. It's important to have that on-the-job experience because theoretical training complements the hands-on learning from life experiences. The concept of lifelong learning is so important, especially in our industry, because you have to be researching constantly and you need to know where to go for current information to keep up with the industry and the academic side of things.

How long does a tourism and hospitality degree take to complete at Southern Cross University?

The standard program takes three years, which includes five months or one semester working in the industry.

Why are internships part of the degree?

Internships allow students to specialise in their chosen sector and gain hands-on experience in the industry. This means that if a student really wants to specialise in the events sector, he or she can go and work in an events management company. They actually get hands-on, inside industry knowledge and have the opportunity to apply all the things that they've learnt in class to real-life situations. We find that learning through doing, helps cement students' knowledge, makes them industry-ready, and helps them further their careers.

Do students get to choose where they undertake their work placement?

Most definitely. We work with the students extensively so that they can decide which industry sector and which employers are going to be most suited to them and their career aspirations.

How do you go about securing work experience positions?

There are two ways. Sometimes it's through a direct approach with the students. Sometimes it's through network relationships that the uni has built up through its staff or through the internship program. Often internships will come about through word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied employers as well as graduates who have worked their way up into more senior roles and are keen to lend a hand to the next generation of internship students coming through.

What kind of response have you had from students and employers?

Students love it! They often say it's the best part of their degree because it's so hands-on and they really enjoy getting in there and putting all the things they've learnt into practice. Employers love it too because they get to secure highly motivated, exceptional graduates before they've actually finished their degree. Employers also love it because they're involved in those final five months of training the student   making sure they are industry-ready and that they have industry-relevant skills.

What kinds of companies have students worked for through the program?

You name it; we've had them in every state of Australia and around the world! Students have worked in: event management, sports administration, hotels, resorts, government bodies, marketing consultancies and the education sector. We've pretty much got the industry covered!

Do any of the internships involve payment?

The majority of internships are paid now, which is a very different scenario to 15 years ago when we first started our program. Students are generally paid at the relevant entry-level wage.

Do many students get offered permanent job opportunities as a result of their placement?

About 70 to 75 per cent of the students stay on with their employers. The other students are often planning to travel, or have found another job. Some are poached by another employer who has been impressed by their skills.

What's the biggest misconception people have about employing interns?

That they're slave labour!

Tourism is notorious for having a large staff turnover. Why do you think that is?

I guess it depends which sector you're looking at. In hotels, often there's a high turnover because of the location, the labour is transient, and people are working their way around the country. Sometimes remoteness is a problem for people. Other times it's the hours tourism demands – people don't want to do shiftwork forever.

There are some excellent employers out there that have great staff retention and staff reward programs in place, and they offer ongoing training. We work really hard at promoting these employers to our students. The culture that they build can be quite effective at reducing that staff turnover. Companies that value their staff retain them very well.

Have there been many major changes in the industry since you started?

Yes. I think the biggest one that's hitting us at the moment is the skills shortage, it's not only hitting tourism at the moment, but all the industry sectors. I think it's actually a good thing because it's making employers look at their HR practices and find ways of attracting and keeping good staff and that's having a positive effect on industry practices overall.

What's the best thing about working in tourism?

It's got to be people. Dealing with people every day keeps things interesting, entertaining and very rewarding. Plus of course you've got the old cliche that you get to travel!

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