Tourism, the biggest source of income for the geographically diverse Maldives, is held together not only by the increasing number of investors but also by the a large workforce consisting of both local and foreign employees. Amongst more than 25,000 people employed in the tourism sector in Maldives, almost half are foreigners.

This has been the main concern that has persisted over the years. While all employees are given equal opportunities and rights, there is concern for more and more Maldivians left unemployed. Under the Employment and Enterprise Development for Women and Youth project, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and officials of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture are collaborating to compile a Human Resource Action Plan for Maldives to tackle this particular problem.

Mr. Wouter Schalken will be working as a consultant in the process of compiling the plan. According to Mr. Schalken, the human resource development strategy for tourism in the Maldives aims “to increase the number of Maldivians engaged in meaningful employment within the tourism sector”. While a lot of graduates are interested in working in the industry, few are sufficiently skilled enough to progress further into their career.

“The years ahead will see a steep increase in the number of school leavers and as tourism is a high employer, measures will be formulated to absorb an increasing number of young Maldivians into both direct tourism jobs (resort based) as well as indirect employment (support industries),” Mr. Schalken stated, in response to a question by Maldives Traveller on the predicted outcome after the execution of the action plan.

In addition to the action plan, the tourism ministry has also launched a special campaign to raise awareness among locals of the lucrative venture into the hospitality industry, dubbed “Fanaaru 2011″. This Tourism Human Resources Development Fund was established to address financial shortcomings that exist in the development of human resources for the hospitality industry.

Through this campaign, officials hope to provide locals training programs and, where possible, scholarships related to the tourism and hospitality industry. The fund will be managed by a committee comprising of officials from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture; the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports; the Ministry of Finance and Treasury; and the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI).

They will work on disseminating information about the hospitality industry among locals through job fairs, familiarization trips and the media. The UNDP is a supporting partner of this campaign as well. According to the ministry, proposals for projects aimed at improving the human resources development for the tourism industry will be accepted from any party. While the fuinding requires US$230,000, US$20,000 has already been raised.

The Human Resource Action Plan would provide the framework for these efforts. Mr. Schalken says that the Strategic Human Resources Plan requires practical actions on four levels: Awareness creation amongst the general public about the opportunities of employment in tourism; aligning supply and demand in the tourism labour market which addresses skills shortages, career paths and remuneration in the industry; value chain development at atoll levels and island levels, which aims to create economic linkages between resorts and island communities and broaden the benefits from tourism through income generating opportunities; and the adaptation of policy and regulations to meet the strategy objectives.

Asked when the document is estimated to be completed and implimented, Mr. Schalken said, “the strategy is being formulated as we speak with the initial consultation phase almost complete. A national validation workshop is tentatively scheduled for early September.”

He is collaborating with another consultant who is formulating an Employment Action Framework in the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports to formulate. Both these missions are under the Employment and Enterprise Development for Women and Youth project of UNDP.

The low number of Maldivian employees is not an issue only in the tourism industry; but since the prospect looks brighter now on boosting the local workforce in the industry, there is hope that things will change in other areas as well. Local economic analysts believe that increasing the Maldivian workforce can also solve the dollar shortage issue the archipelago is experiencing.