Training ground – how casinos are promoting from within

For operators in Asia, it has become easier to promote from within, rather than look further afield.

Tightening visa restrictions and an increase in competition from new casino developments have led to a squeeze, leaving casinos increasingly reliant on developing the skill sets of individuals to establish a clear production line of talent to support future staffing needs.

Such recruitment challenges have led to Asia’s more proactive operators launching training programmes or striking up partnerships with external scheme providers.

MSS Recruitment managing director Jiji Tu said that the training schemes are a natural result of “tightening visa policies for middle to senior management positions that mean it is more difficult to import talented staff from overseas” and explained: “Most of the movement is for relatively senior positions and the quantity of staff movement isn’t high.”

Operational needs

According to Starr Xian, managing partner of Evolution HR, operators have beenincreasingly “focusing on training and developing the local workforce to meet operational needs”.

That is partly due to a relatively recent hardening in Macau’s attitude towards foreign workers who are required to have a ‘blue card’ work permit.

Under changes that were introduced in 2016, locals are always prioritised over foreigners for the same job, unless there is insufficient manpower in the workforce. In bringing in the policy, Macau’s government simultaneously set a target of increasing the proportion of locals in management roles in the gaming industry from 80.8 percent to 85 percent by 2020.

“Generally, most of the rank-and-file positions such as food and beverage servers, housekeeping or security are sourced from overseas as these positions can be hard to fill,” Starr added. “With more properties opening, demand for service staff, even hosts, will increase significantly in the next few years.

“The professional blue card is usually valid for two years and renewing it is not 100 percent certain, so this has pushed back professionals from overseas. They might need to relocate their entire family to Macau and there’s no certainty for continuous employment or a definite career path.”

Local focus

Stemming the flow of ambitious professionals into Macau, where they would have previously been able to garner vital experience to take back to casinos elsewhere in Asia, has stifled international experience to a degree. However, operators have been keen to take control of their own destiny.

Melco Resorts & Entertainment, which operates casinos in Macau and the Philippines, launched its in-house diploma in casino management in partnership with the University of Macau in 2015. More than 40 employees enrolled in the programme in the first year alone, attending after-work sessions as part of the operator’s Learning Academy, which also offers educational courses in various areas.

“We constantly look for new initiatives to equip our people and prepare them for management responsibilities,” Melco’s co-chairman and CEO Lawrence Ho said.

According to Starr, “every operator has its own training and development programmes in place to further develop local talents”.

Peter Keijzer, the general manager of Corona Resort & Casino in Vietnam, added that the flexibility of training schemes allows casinos to focus on developing specific skill sets which may be under-represented in the workforce.

“My personal philosophy is to hire as many locals as possible,” he said. “That’s part of respecting the culture where you operate. On top of that we have the labour department that only gives a certain amount of expat permits. That creates a big challenge.”

Similarly, Angel Sueiro, chief operating officer at the Emerald Resort Hotel and Casino in the Philippines, said that “the focus is on training and developing locals”.

He added: “Filipinos’ customer service attitude is excellent, so most of the training is on technical skills and, at certain levels, leadership skills.”

Multilingual skills

Aside from the core attributes required to work on the casino floor, or upstairs in management, there is also a broad recognition that multilingual skills are not only increasingly beneficial for the casinos, but also for the individuals.

“Candidates with language skills and experience have the option to work in places like Singapore, Cambodia, Philippines, Korea and Japan,” Starr said.

“Most gaming operators in the region are focusing on Chinese customers. Therefore, most of the front-line customer services staff are required to speak Mandarin and English, coupled with relevant experience.”

According to Keijzer, the “biggest challenge is language and attitude skills in general”.

He added: “Several countries have a growing middle class and they want to see other parts of the world. They would like to communicate in their own language or English.

“It is not easy to find locals that are experienced dealers and also speak good English, Chinese or Russian. That means you have to be very smart in how you use your limited expat permits. We have training programmes for all the games, but we also invest in language courses.”

Overseas opportunities

However, there are still opportunities for individuals who are keen to pursue careers in the casino industry to gain international experience through training programmes, especially as third-party providers of such schemes have sprung up across the continent, reflecting anticipated growth.

For example, casino schools for dealers and croupiers were active in Japan long before the country’s government last year finally passed legislation for Integrated Resorts to be built.

Masayoshi Oiwane, who runs one of the schools in Tokyo, said that enrolment figures doubled from 2017 to 2018. “We are seeing an unprecedented momentum,” he said.

Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, some foreign casino operators have already begun hiring Japanese nationals to work at overseas locations. The aim ultimately is for the individuals to return to their home country so they can hit the ground running when the casinos open their doors in about five years’ time.

Such forward planning shows that many operators still believe that when it comes to ensuring staff have sufficient experience and expertise, in spite of ever-changing visa headaches, an international perspective is essential in a long-term outlook.