Hotel services will always depend on human interaction, but behind the scenes automation can greatly help. (Photo courtesy of Harris-Pop! Hotels & Conventions Solo)

How Mobile Learning Can Boost Indonesia’s Workforce


APRIL 03, 2019

As the general manager of a busy 333-room hotel in Solo, I depend on my employees to take good care of all the local and international guests checking in and out every day, businesspeople coming for meetings and events, a busy F&B operation, not to mention maintenance of the pool, spa, gym and other facilities. That means I have to have a certain level of trust in my people to ensure the smooth running of our daily operations.

This is no different from any other general manager in Indonesia, or any other business leader in fact. No chief executive can run a successful organization by themselves and good leaders tend to be the ones that choose their teams wisely, then lean on them to get the job done.

The hospitality industry is unique, in that it is made up of a wide range of people from all walks of life. Many employees are young, just out of school or college and usually live in the same area as the hotel they work in and are just starting out on their professional journey. At the management level, we tend to draw staff from within our own hotels with plenty of experience, or managers hailing from other hotels both in Indonesia or overseas.

As a leader, it is my job to ensure that my employees—whether trainees or seasoned managers—are equipped with the skills they need to do their jobs effectively. This means I have to provide them not just with a good initial training and familiarisation program, but also a robust continuous learning plan that allows them to constantly develop and learn new skills.

Throughout my career, we have always done this through traditional classroom-based learning. This involved hours spent in a classroom (usually a repurposed hotel meeting room) during which we would learn languages or service skills.

Looking back, this learning method was wholly unsuited to a busy hotel. The disruption caused by taking away ten service staff from the "frontline" was significant and placed more work and pressure on the other employees. Tutors are expensive, and we could only organize these sessions once a week—not enough for the kind of constant, repetitive learning that language and service skills training require. However, classroom-based learning was the only method we knew.

Unlike other industries that have been hit by waves of automation, our guests will always require human interaction, there are only a few things that technology can automate when it comes to hotel service. Behind the scenes, however, is a different matter.

We now use a mobile learning solution called Boost Voice to train our employees in English language skills. This technology allows our employees to learn English (specifically, English designed for the hospitality industry) on their smartphones. This means they are able to learn wherever, whenever they want (literally on the bus on the way to work, during their lunch break or before bed). 

This makes much more sense. The Indonesian workforce today—especially those just entering work—are younger and have grown up in a digital age. That is why they are often called "digital natives." They are much more used to reading from a smartphone screen than they are from a book.

To put it simply, mobile learning works. We have seen English language proficiency improve significantly over the past six months among our workers who use the Boost app and we have received plenty of positive feedback from guests.

It is also a very flexible technology that can be custom tailored to the hospitality industry. Our employees learn vocabulary and phrases relevant to F&B, housekeeping and, in the latest version, more technical engineering details.

We have also seen another unexpected, but very welcome, side effect. Our staff who have regularly used the mobile learning app and completed their courses not only show a better grasp of English, but they have also become much more confident. They engage in more conversations with guests and speak up more in team meetings to offer their own opinions and solutions. 

Take Willy Prasetyo, one of our employees in the F&B department. Willy hails from Solo and has worked in the hospitality industry since 2010 in various hotels and restaurants. Late last year he started learning English using the Boost Voice app and we have seen him go from a quietly-spoken, quite shy individual to one who has grown in confidence, never short of words to welcome or entertain guests in English.

While mobile learning has worked for our hotel, I am sure many are wondering how this is relevant to Indonesia as a whole. One of the best things about mobile learning is it is scalable, what works for our hotels can be scaled to other hotels in Indonesia and internationally. Mobile learning can also be employed in other industries. It can be an efficient, cost-effective means to upskill Indonesia’s workforce, providing them with the skills and confidence they need to grow and prosper.

Yudi Alamsyah is the general manager of Harris-Pop! Hotels & Conventions Solo