Training on land for careers at sea

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Learning to smile with confidence is part of the curriculum.

So is the safe use of heavy-duty chemical cleaners. The heft of a tray covered with dinner orders. Brand names of foreign foods and drinks. Port is left when facing forward, toward the bow; starboard is right. Aft is back, toward the stern. It’s OK to question. It’s OK to do your own thinking.

Genuine hospitality is both art and science, and for students in one of Mainland China’s newest schools of specialized education, it also requires mastering a somewhat alien concept.

“We’re really trying to teach more about free-thinking – individualistic, personality driven, more self-confidence in how you carry yourself, individual dialog with a guest one on one,” says Richard Brearley, RCL vice president for shipboard HR strategy and services, in explaining one of the intangibles that drives the Cruise Talent Development Centre in the northern port city of Tianjin, China.

Opened only a year ago in a strategic partnership with the state-owned Tianjin Maritime College, the center is already working on expansion plans to accommodate more of the trainees sourced from 70 schools in the newly formed China Alliance of Cruise Talent Education and Training (CACTET).

With the exponential growth of cruising as a vacation option in China, one reported estimate predicts that at least 300,000 new crew members will have to be trained in the next decade to meet demand.

So, besides sending Quantum of the Seas to homeport in Shanghai in June as part of a five-ship contingent to be sailing out of China by next spring, RCL took the long view on staffing.

The three-story, 13,000-square-meter training center was built to mimic such shipboard hospitality venues as food-service facilities and guest staterooms to give students the hands-on experience needed to serve on board.

A 12-week course is designed to obviate the need for an internship and prepare graduates to begin work as a full-fledged hospitality crew member.

“It was interesting,” Brearley said. “Two months ago I was in China and was at a different school well inland, and the questions you start asking the population, ‘How many people have stayed in a hotel three nights?’ Zero. ‘How many people have stayed in a hotel one night?’ A group of hands go up.

“The ability for a lot of these individuals to even leave their hometown or, definitely, to be on a cruise ship or travel is very, very limited. So the more we can work with them, the stronger the sourcing and the greater the retention.”

Margaret Fan, RCL Asian Pacific training administration manager, says graduates realize another benefit with the folks at home.

“It shows their community how ‘strong’ they are,” Fan says. ‘You are able to join an international brand. You are traveling internationally. And they are attracted to that.”

In July, a second RCL training school accepted its first group of students in Lombok, Indonesia.

Brearley says the two centers will graduate as many as 5,000 trained and capable new RCL employees each year.