An exploration of the notion of generic skills through a study of customer service training in two industry sectors
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. Access is restricted indefinitely. ----- The Training Package Framework of national qualifications in Australia purports to serve the needs of industry. There have been many problems associated with implementation of this policy in vocational education, particularly in relation to generic skills training and assessment. Customer service, which is the main focus for this research, is generally regarded as a generic skill, and this study shows that conceptualization of customer service as a generic skill is problematic for the two industries chosen for this study, despite their perceived similarity. Specifically, the workplace contexts for service were found to be vitally important and quite different. The research was conducted in two phases, the first qualitative and the second quantitative. The first phase was case-study-based. In the second stage, over 100 experienced industry trainers from the two industry sectors responded to a survey in which they weighted the emerging context dimensions for customer service training. The case study findings, which included observed training and questionnaires, showed considerable differences in the specific content and language of the training, particularly with respect to explanations of the service environment, the customer profiles, workplace procedures and safety. Other than exhortations to smile and be friendly, there was little in common in the training other than the broad topic areas. Following this, a quantitative survey was conducted to see if there were significant differences in the weightings assigned to six customer service dimensions allocated by two groups of highly experienced trainers from the hospitality and events sectors. Five of these context dimensions came from research in the services marketing area, known as the SERVQUAL approach. The sixth, risk and safety, was added following the case studies in which concerns about litigation were found to dominate many aspects of customer service training. Significant differences were found between training provided in the industry sectors for two of the six variables, with two other variables approaching significance. The wide variance in responses to the survey illustrated by the relevant histograms appears to indicate that there is also little agreement within each sector about the weighting assigned to the various dimensions, pointing to a high level of differentiation between workplace contexts and within the two sectors. In summary, this research suggests that the Australian tourism industry (which includes these two sectors) should be working towards a positive service ethos that is less homogenized, more authentic and better differentiated from competitors. Consumers in all areas, local and international in origin, have high expectations of service providers and this requires a level of professionalism beyond the generic behavioural outcomes of the competency units that form the basis for the national qualifications system.
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