Tackling Workforce Challenges is a Team Lift.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. - Chinese Proverb
It’s not just us. Historic workforce challenges currently face nearly every industry. Common reasons include the low unemployment rate and a growing mismatch between the skills needed and values desired by employers and the abilities and attitudes of prospective employees.
Many partners I speak with feel that the hospitality industry is particularly hard-hit, and the state’s third largest employer, as forecasted by the Oregon Department of Labor (2017-2027), doesn’t get the respect deserved.
And it’s true, we have been left out of strategic workforce development discussions and sector training funding grants targeted to help meet workforce needs. Why haven’t we been asked to participate?
Primarily because of the government, education system and public’s perception that we are a low wage/low opportunity industry. Public workforce investment and education are focusing on industries they believe have high wage/high opportunities so that investments produce significant ROI for individual opportunities and Oregon’s economic vitality. Many of us who have made rewarding careers in the hospitality industry may argue, but what can we as an industry actively do to change the perception that the industry isn’t worthy? How is that perception affecting us?
For example, Oregon’s recent Career Technical Education (CTE) Revitalization Grants, which focused on career readiness and ‘giving students access to hands-on learning programs’ totaled $10.3 million dollars. Grants were allocated primarily for training in manufacturing, engineering, agricultural science, aviation, robotics, forestry, construction and biomedical/health sciences. The state’s advocacy and advisory council included industry representatives from construction, manufacturing, healthcare, and plumbing/heating/cooling contractors, but not one representative from the hospitality industry. So too, none of Oregon’s nine Workforce Development Boards which receive federal monies to “develop strategies that leverage funding and resources within their local communities to prepare and match the skills of workers with the workforce demands of businesses” place a high priority on training for the hospitality industry, though at least Lane County identifies food service in one of its sector strategies.
Why? We weren’t asked to be at these tables, true, but neither did our industry prepare in advance as others had done to earn and ensure our own involvement.
Many industries planted seeds long ago when they began realizing that they were going to face shortages of skilled workers in the future if they didn’t proactively advocate and plan for their own employment needs. For example, with technology’s boom, here was some sentiment that blue-collar jobs were appropriate only for those that “couldn’t cut it” in the white-collar world. The trades understood that they needed to change that perception and actively recruit for their professions in order to encourage future generations to consider employment. They recognized the need for creative recruiting and helped fund entrepreneurial organizations such as the Oregon Tradeswomen, created 29 years ago “to offer innovative trades-based training programs, trades awareness activities and technical assistance to organizations seeking to be inclusive of women in their trade occupations.”
Other industries such as healthcare, high tech, and engineering companies formed coalitions even among competitors. These coalitions collaborated to create innovative tools they voluntarily funded and provided access to the education system. They supported apprenticeship programs and created awareness campaigns touting not only their economic value to the state’s economy but also the desirability of their jobs and ease of pathways to reach top pay.
The Time is Now
Would it be easier to catch-up if it were 20 years ago when we began? Sure. But with a combination of long-term planning and short-term strategies, and the active engagement by several partners, many of us believe the hospitality industry can work together to proactively tackle our workforce challenges.
You can start now, in a small but important way, by supporting our state’s ProStart Culinary and Management CTE Programs which offer career exploration skills and opportunities to 3,000 students in 36 schools throughout the state (see OregonRLA.org/ProStart). Needed are industry speakers, in-classroom skill mentors and field trip sites, as well as financial, food, and equipment donations. You can also participate in the upcoming ORLAEF ProStart Invitational as judge, volunteer, and/or sponsor. Get more information at OregonRLA.Org/Competition.
The industry needs champions like you to promote its opportunities and advantages, and to engage with workforce initiatives.
Where to Start
Consider Evaluating Your Own Organization: Are you spending time with your employees to understand their goals? Do you actively provide and coach internal and external pathways to success? This type of engagement has been shown not only to help reduce individual company turnover but also helps encourage employees to advance in the industry. Read more on best practices and tools for recruiting and retaining employees at OregonRLA.org/blog/workforce-20.
Make an Honest Assessment: As an industry we all need to look at our workplaces, their culture and demands. Are they in fact reasonable and desirable? Are we being realistic about what we are asking employees to do? Is our culture positive and supportive? Do schedule demands allow for personal and family balance? Do we need to make some changes? For example, check out how chefs are supporting other chefs to inspire a new kitchen culture at FairKitchens.com.
Embrace Innovation: Results come from a multi-faceted approach that includes utilizing technology to increase efficiency and reduce unnecessary, repetitive tasks. It’s true that younger generations are less willing to perform duties they consider unfulfilling. Using technology can not only improve job satisfaction but it can create more opportunity for employees to focus on the guest, a win-win for everyone. Here is one article for perspective: http://bit.ly/NewHospTech.
Engage with Available Workforce Training Tools: For examples and to learn more about the new apprenticeship programs for both food service and lodging, go to: http://bit.ly/RestaurantLodgingApprenticeships. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out online training programs such as those offered by the American Hotel & Lodging Association at http://bit.ly/ORLodgingCareers and Rouxbe.com. The Oregon Coast, Lane County, and Portland are actively engaged in various workforce development efforts and need industry partner participation. Success will rely on support in a variety of ways including strategic leadership, guest speakers/instructors, field trip sites, and employers who embrace training relationships.
Be an Industry Champion in Your Community: Become involved with your workforce board at http://bit.ly/ORWorkforceBoards or join the advisory board at your local high school or community college. Advocate for the economic contribution and job opportunities our industry offers using resources such as http://bit.ly/ORRestaurantData and http://bit.ly/ORHotelData. As the Oregon Workforce and Talent Board, which is responsible for advising the governor on workforce matter notes, “No sector strategy is ever successful without members of industry acting as leaders, informers and champions.”
ORLA Education Foundation’s mission is to help support the hospitality industry’s training and education needs. Recruiting, retaining, and helping its employees advance in their careers is an essential focus. With sponsorships from partners such as Travel Oregon, Sysco Portland, Metro, and Curtis Restaurant Equipment, as well as generous individual donations (see OregonRLA.org/SupportEF) we have been able to engage with, promote and advocate for many of the initiatives above.
We are always seeking partners to help us expand and represent our efforts and are also seeking those attracted to serving on an ad-hoc committee with our Board of Trustees to help us discern feasible, reasonable, and fundable strategies for future impact. Interested? Please contact me at WPopkin@oregonrla.org. | Wendy Popkin
Wendy Popkin is the Executive Director for ORLA’s Education Foundation (ORLAEF), a nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting the educational and training needs of the hospitality industry. Wendy is a 32-year career veteran who describes herself as “fanatically enthusiastic about helping others enjoy the same type of fabulous career opportunities I have enjoyed in the hospitality industry.”