LOOKING at Miss Sarah Gorecki, a young barista cheerfully preparing your favourite cup of espresso, you would never imagine that she was once a reclusive and anti-social young woman.

As Miss Gorecki says: "When I first came for the Certified Service Professional (CSP) course, I was pessimistic, unfriendly and a rather negative person."

Thinking that the CSP programme was another boring, classroom-style course on service, Miss Gorecki, 20, wondered if she was just wasting her time. Her lack of enthusiasm quickly vanished as the experienced trainers wasted no time imparting the course objectives and getting participants to be actively involved, "boot-camp style".

She feels the most important aspects for her were a change in mindset and a boost in her confidence.

Laying the foundation

The CSP programme, developed by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, aims to equip Singaporeans and permanent residents, who are keen to work in the tourism industry, with a positive mindset and foundational service skills. It is the first service training programme to focus on developing a passion for service.

Ms Jennie Chua, president and CEO of The Ascott Group and chairman of the Tourism Industry Skills and Training Council, says: "Having a service mindset and the ability to deliver good service is the most important attribute for staff. It is the primary requirement for a range of tourism jobs, including croupiers, attraction hosts in theme parks, guest relations executives and retail assistants."

Ms Gorecki interacted with other participants and engaged in discussions, presentation and role-play service encounters. The programme was intensive but a lot of fun. Participants were expected to think, live and breathe the 10 qualities of a Certified Service Professional:

I am passionate

I have a customer-first mindset

I think positively

I know my job well

I solve problems

I personalise my service

I am dependable

I respect others

I am a team player

I strive for improvement.

Modelled after the rigour and discipline of the military, participants were expected to be dressed smartly and neatly, be punctual for lessons and breaks and had to address each other by salutations and first names. Roll calls similar to real workplace practices in F&B, retail and hotels were conducted daily.

The trainer reviewed the learning points of the previous day and encouraged participants to set goals to achieve for the day. To Miss Gorecki, the biggest challenge she faced was reporting to class at 9am sharp daily. But the thought of learning and having fun with her fellow participants spurred her on.

Practising skills

With the CSP programme, Miss Gorecki had the opportunity to practise her service skills on and with fellow participants. In particular, groups of participants were rotated to be "service hosts" and "banquet teams".

As part of the banquet team, participants were given opportunities to conceptualise the themes and formats of tea breaks for each day. This included choices of food, setting, ambience, preparation and the allocation of roles among team members.

For example, when Miss Gorecki was rostered, her team re-enacted the opening reception of a new garden caf. Each team member was assigned to a table to take orders while one went around giving out "discount coupons". One team member even wore angel's wings to welcome guests.

Real-life scenarios or simulations were added to test how quickly participants responded to exceptional situations, such as a customer with special needs or demanding customers.

Miss Gorecki was continuously assessed by the trainers as she went through different activities throughout the five days. She was judged on her skills competency and not paper qualifications.

She admits it was unnerving at first to see the trainers writing on their checklists while she completed each course activity. But she eventually appreciated being able to learn on-the-spot from her mistakes and improve immediately with the constant feedback.

After completing the training, she was certified competent as a service professional and received a Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) certificate, which is recognised by the tourism industry.

Raising standards

Employers are excited about how the CSP programme can raise service standards of the local workforce. After the first two pilot runs of the programme, at least 27 companies, including Esprit, Metro and Billy Bombers American Diners, have expressed interest to hire CSP graduands or send their staff for training.

The CSP programme is not the end of a skills upgrading journey for workers. After participants attend the CSP programme, they can embark on a variety of career opportunities in the tourism industry. Those who are interested in specialised jobs such as tourist guides, event hosts, merchandisers or store managers can take up further training in tourism, retail or F&B WSQ programmes.

Like Miss Gorecki, everyone has a chance to make a difference to their lives and upgrade their skills to move ahead in their careers. She is now saving up to attend art school and further her career as a service professional.