Staffing shortages and ensuing issues have become commonplace in the hospitality and tourism industries and a stark reality meeting professionals must now grapple with at nearly every turn. The Great Resignation and a mindset among workers focused on a healthy balance between life and work have caused some reluctance for a full return of the workforce once in-person gatherings resumed while the industry began rebounding. Smart Meetings reported that roughly 44 million vacancies in the industry remain as of July 2022.

However, organizations with the goal of developing future industry professionals are gaining momentum to advance students pursuing careers in hospitality with specialized programs and generous funding. The American Hotel and Lodging Association Foundation (AHLA Foundation) recently awarded $1 million in scholarships to 336 hospitality students for the 2022-23 academic school year, which was funded through donations provided by individual donors and corporations.

Similarly, Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM), an organization committed to elevating diversity, education, advocacy and empowerment in the events industry, offers several programs designed to create an inclusive and diverse workforce and guest experience. TDM functions under four pillars defined as apprenticeship programs, workforce development, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and research and data.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Are Driving Career Development

The AHLA Foundation’s recent scholarship announcement follows a five-year road map introduced in 2021 to elevate DEI with funding supported by a $5 million commitment to diversify the workforce at all levels of the industry.

“The AHLA Foundation Board of Trustees recognized that we can do more to build on our legacy of opening doors of opportunity to all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, and we believe that this bold, new five-year plan takes us one step closer to reaching that goal,” Rosanna Maietta, president and CEO of the AHLA Foundation, says. “This is a monumental example of an industry coming together to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, even at a time when Covid-19 has wiped out 10 years of job growth in the industry.”

The AHLA Foundation last year also introduced a new Leadership Program featuring resources, such as mentoring and executive coaching, to attract diverse talent and increase representation at an executive level. “Our vision is to build an industry as diverse as the guests we serve, and this new initiative will build on the industry’s long-standing commitment to promote diversity, equity and inclusion across all levels in our workforce,” said Greg Juceam, president and chief operations officer of G6 Hospitality and AHLA Foundation chair of the board, in a press release.

Building Employment Pipelines Through Education

First established in the summer of 2020 as a result of the killing of George Floyd, TDM is focused on DEI 365 days a year for “something that was well overdue for the industry,” says Greg Deshields, executive director of TDM.

“Our apprentice program is our talent pipeline,” Deshields says, adding that it was created in Philadelphia during the 90s. “It’s really meant to provide someone a second opportunity to move their career forward.” The apprenticeship program includes 600 hours of training and mentoring for participants that are associated with the tracks offered by TDM including sales, convention services and events and sports. The program also facilitates a collaboration with the host and partner to provide compensation for the 600 hours of the program with a requirement to hire following the conclusion of the apprenticeship.

TDM also functions under a “collective impact model,” Deshields explains, building affiliations with academic institutions to garner resources such as career development offices and alumni associations, including the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Consortium and National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH), as well as connecting with organizations that are seeking diverse candidates. “We’ll frequently make recommendations to organizations who are trying to find a way to either diversify their talent pipeline or add to their talent pipeline,” he says.

“Workforce development is where we spend a lot of our time engaging high school students, college students, workforce development, about the opportunities in our industry so we speak quite often about why you should go into this industry and we come up with creative programs for those constituents to pursue,” Deshields says.

A Slow Recovery

However, one of the major hurdles that organizations currently face is worker apprehension regarding how their employment could be affected during a pandemic—and this apprehension impacts businesses and educational institutions alike. As a result, the employment pipeline has been greatly reduced, Deshields says, adding that organizations must now do more with less to improve efficiency.

One approach of casting the tourism and hospitality industries in a more positive light is providing individuals with fresh perspectives on the employment opportunities that are available. “We need to make all of efforts clear to present the industry in a way that people get excited about, and people want to work in it,” Deshields says, adding that TDM encourages individuals to consider a career trajectory that leads to the corporate level or hotel development. “We really started to expand the long-term career options as opposed to the property-specific options to take people from one point of view of the industry to another.”