As a new member of the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne Group (EHL), the Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality (SSTH) offers two top degrees in hospitality management like no other school in Switzerland. With the addition of a top-up Bachelor (following the curriculum of EHL), a new milestone in dual-education - combining practical training with academic education - has been achieved. Here, Knut Rupprecht, the Managing Director SSTH, gives an interview on the advancements SSTH is making as a front-runner of Swiss hotel management schools.

Q: Thank you for accepting our interview. As we all know that you have been involved in opening 14 hotels, teaching in EHL for over ten years and working in large international hotel chains. What makes you choose to join in SSTH eventually?

By bringing in SSTH, the EHL Group has created the first complete hospitality education portfolio. With SSTH celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, EHL Group is tackling for the first time the full spectrum of professional education, with the aim of building a bridge to each stage of hospitality training and education. SSTH is a unique case in Switzerland, and most probably in the world, where all three levels of qualification are brought together under one roof; starting with vocational apprenticeship training, through to higher professional education (with the Swiss Professional Degree in English, the only one federally accredited in Switzerland), and on to the higher academic studies with the same Bachelor degree delivered by EHL. Graduates will then be able to pursue their studies with a Master degree given in Lausanne. This educational concept is totally new and unique, so having the opportunity to help build and lead such an important project creates quite an exciting challenge for me.

Q: Both SSTH and EHL belong to EHL Group, What is the relationship between SSTH and EHL? What benefits can it bring to students in SSTH after its becoming part of the EHL Group?

Both institutions have the same goal: offering all their graduates a decisive advantage and successful career in the international hospitality industry. There is a very close relationship between both institutions, with everyone pulling together to make the Group a success. EHL has contributed greatly to the redesign of our Swiss Professional Degree Program. This program offers an opportunity to students who prefer a professional, “learning by doing” approach in order to gain top managerial competences based on experience, as well as a highly regarded and government recognized education. Following this is the top-up Bachelor program, which will be launched in September 2018 and will consist of the last three semesters of the EHL Bachelor curriculum. Obviously EHL will be quite involved in building up this program, with regular exchanges of lecturers and professors between both institutions as well.

Students studying at SSTH will profit from an extremely high level of quality, both in the educational programs and in the SSTH campus lifestyle and infrastructure. We are now playing in the Champions League, just as the other Group members. The two higher education qualifications obtainable at SSTH - the Professional and the Bachelor degree - are highlighted by our relationship with EHL. And last but not least, graduates and alumni from SSTH will be linked to the EHL alumni network, making it the largest in the world with over 30’000 alumni and over 70 chapters covering the globe. Which is a lifelong asset.  

Q: Compared with other Swiss hospitality schools, how will you position SSTH, and what are the specialties and advantages of SSTH?

SSTH and EHL are the only schools in Switzerland that offer English language hospitality management qualifications accredited by the Swiss government. Additionally, the Bachelor of Science in International Hospitality Management is integrated into the European Bologna system, and accredited by NEASC (New England Association of School and Colleges) as well, allowing our graduates to pursue Master studies in the most reputed universities in the world. Since professional education is our core approach, our students are particularly renowned for their managerial competences based on strong practical skills and professional experience. Our Bachelor degree, of strong academic value, is constructed upon our unique Swiss Professional Degree program, complimenting this professional/practical experience. Our graduates are not only strong academically, they are also able to immediately take on important professional responsibilities, as they have already gained a strong professional background and exposure. And this is exactly what the industry is looking for; Global leaders in professional hospitality management!
Q: Are the programs of SSTH accredited by the Swiss federal government and Chinese Ministry of Education as well?

As mentioned before, not only are our English language hospitality management programs accredited by the Swiss federal government, they are the only ones! Regarding the accreditation by the Chinese Ministry of Education, our Bachelor degree is already accredited through EHL with SSTH delivering their curriculum. The Group is currently applying for the Swiss Professional Degree accreditation, which we should obtain soon since the quality is guaranteed through the Swiss federal accreditation.

Q: Personally you have many years of HR management experience in Intercontinental Hotel in Switzerland. According to your experience, what kind of students do the large international hotel chains prefer to employ?

The needs of international chains have not particularly changed since my own involvement as an HR professional. Talent management remains a major challenge to support the rapid expansion of the tourism and hotel industry. Capable managers in the industry should demonstrate strong supervisory and people skills that can only be acquired through an exposure in a practical and professional environment. This means that professional experience will remain one of the main recruitment and selection criteria for candidates to supervisory and managerial positions. This fact frustrates quite a few degree holders, who expect to find a supervisory position immediately upon graduation, but often are not offered these opportunities as they lack professional experience.

On the other side, professional/practical skills are not sufficient to guarantee a successful career in an industry in which managing complexity has become a major issue. Analytical and conceptual skills, as well as a strong strategic mindset, have become key selection criteria used by HR managers. Those skills are particularly developed during academic studies, during which students learn to research, analyze, and identify opportunities “out of the box” by considering the links between major options.

SSTH students can demonstrate the best of both worlds. Upon graduation, they have already gained two years of industry experience, as well as having applied operational and supervisory skills during their Professional Degree semesters in our beautiful Belle Époque School Hotel. With the Bachelor Degree, considered as the world reference for the hospitality industry, our students can also demonstrate those conceptual, analytical, and strategic skills that industry leaders look for in managers and supervisors.

Q: SSTH is located in Graubünden, a top-ranking tourism destination. Do the students in SSTH have opportunities for local internships and employment?

Students joining us for the Preparatory Year will first undergo a semester of initial training on campus in preparation for a 6-7 months internship in one of our partner hotels in Graubünden. Over a period of 18 weeks, they are trained on practical skills in kitchen, F&B service and housekeeping, as well as intensive German language training. This should guarantee them a smooth integration into the internship hotels in which they are placed and followed-up by our Career & Industrial Relations Department.

The Professional Degree program integrates two 6-month internship as well, for which the first one has to take place in Switzerland. Here again students will receive employment opportunities through our Career & Industrial Relations Department, opportunities for which they will be well prepared and coached.

Internships in Switzerland are paid with a gross salary of CHF. 2’172.--/month.  

Q: It is said that SSTH is the only hospitality school which was ever invited to serve for Davos World Economic Forum. What kind of students can be selected to serve those celebrities? Does it help to the career developments of students?

The yearly WEF is only one of the numerous opportunities for working in prestigious events to which our students are regularly invited to participate. Students who have successfully completed the training for which an event calls for, are allowed to participate. This year, WEF organizers did not hold the opening and closing buffets that we have helped with in the past, but we were called upon to support the local hotel events as needed. The participation in these events contributes to the development of practical/professional experience hoteliers will be looking for when hiring graduates, and are an important addition to our students CV’s.

Q: What do you look forward to in the future of SSTH?

Currently, our main challenge consists of informing our domestic and international audience on the particularities of our educational pathway through the dual approach (professional combined with academic) that is at the heart of Swiss economic success. More and more countries, including Singapore and South Korea, are currently adopting the Swiss model, as they have recognized that there is an oversupply of degree holders in a labor market that needs a more service-oriented skilled workforce. An education based on practical/professional competency combined with strong academic skills is the future, but this needs to be explained and understood. The world of higher education is going through a paradigm shift, and I truly believe that the SSTH model will be an example for global leaders to aspire to.

Knut Rupprecht, many thanks for this interview.

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