Today, there are nearly as many educational opportunities in the hospitality industry as there are hotels. Forward-thinking organizations are prioritizing learning, and it is taking on a number of varied -- and equally progressive -- forms. Through continued instruction, mentorship programs and home-growing internal teams, education has become a major industry focus, ultimately resulting in enhanced businesses and inspired employee development.
Continuing Education: Academy of Hospitality and tourism
Partnering with high schools across the United States, The National Academy Foundation (NAF) prepares students for college and careers. Employees from over 2,500 companies volunteer in classrooms, act as mentors, engage students in paid internships, and serve on local advisory boards. The organization’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism creates work-based learning experiences for students at hotels and related companies.
A national program that was founded in 1982, NAF has grown to 500 academies and serves more than 60,000 students across 39 states, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. With a 97% graduation rate, the program has seen a 10% growth from 2011 to 2012. The With 82 locations, the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism has a 96% graduation rate. Of those graduates, 78% have plans to go to post-secondary schools. Currently, there are over 9,000 students enrolled, a 9% increase from last year.
The Academy of Hospitality and Tourism works with a number of major hotel companies on local levels, including Hilton, Loews, and Marriott. For those properties, there is a range of ways to become involved, such as volunteering as classroom speakers, offering job shadowing, or joining local advisory boards.
Colleen Devery, NAF’s assistant vice president of strategic initiatives, says, “Marriott is one of the most successful models. The company asks their GMs to determine the best way to be involved in the local schools -- and it’s not limited to hospitality. For example, Marriott works with IT and finance interns in their business offices. They consider this a leadership and development opportunity for their staff to be involved as mentors. It re-energizes people and gets them excited about why they chose a career in hospitality.”
She continued, “The students in these encouraging environments tend to stay with the hotels and advance. The Loews hotel in Miami has many alumni that are still working there today who started as interns.”
Konrad Talon, a 2005 graduate from the academy at Maui High School in Hawaii, is currently a rooms controller at Waikiki Edition Hotel. “I know it might sound crazy, but I love my job! The Academy of Hospitality and Tourism program definitely changed the course of my future for the better,” he said.
Dana Pungello, NAF’s communications manager, adds, “We are working with some of the most challenging urban school districts around the country and we structure the curriculum so that it is based on what’s going on in the industry right now. For our hospitality and tourism area, the courses are focused on marketing and customer service -- skills that can be easily transferred to other industries.”
Devery says, “We really strive for a high level work from our academies. We focus on the students so they can get into college and pursue a successful career where they are contributing to their community and society as a whole. We are preparing the next generation of workers who are going to change the world and give back to their community. It’s a transformative experience for everyone involved.”
AH&LA Mentorship program
Relaunched in late 2012, the AH&LA's mentoring program has been reinvented as an opportunity for seasoned industry veterans to help younger colleagues learn to navigate the challenges within the hospitality world. The program was created to pair top industry pros with those seeking a mentor to further develop their career. The professionals can assist with enhancing management and leadership skills, as well as identifying core strengths in the mentees.
In addition to increasing the level of professional visibility, the mentorship program addresses issues associated with balancing work, life, and personal ambition in a constantly changing environment.
Katie Moore, CMP – AH&LA’s senior manager of conventions and events, stated, “We needed to create a healthy, new program for our members and we found that the best way to develop successful pairings is to start with a new baseline of young, enthusiastic individuals. It’s important to for them to be paired up with someone at a higher level who can be a valuable source of encouragement. Also, if you are not getting what you need in the actual workplace, the mentorship program is another viable avenue to keep your career moving forward.”
In addition, the upgraded program features a clearly defined matching process. Mentors and mentees are encouraged to work together to customize a plan that accommodates both individuals’ needs, ensuring a positive experience. The AH&LA recommends resources, such as a brainstorming tool and a learning plan, to help guide discussions, and set goals.
Currently, AH&LA is promoting the new Mentorship program through their Women in Lodging (WIL) organization, as well as the Under 30 Gateway program -- although any AH&LA member is welcome to join.
AH&LA’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Kathryn Potter explained, “The mentorship program is especially important to WIL because the new program provides an option to choose a male or female mentor. This shows women that they can have a high level career in the hospitality industry. The program also spotlights the top ranking women in the industry who might not always get the chance to shine.”
Moore added, “We have a lot of students who are interested in the program at the moment and we want to get as many professionals involved as possible. Right now we are seeking more experienced mentors for interested students.”
Developing your team from within
The Library Hotel Collection is a luxury boutique hotel company in New York City that has a unique perspective on educating their existing talent, blending traditional with unconventional methods.
Emphasizing employee retention, the company’s philosophy on education focuses on daily training, instead of formal programs. Every morning, the GMs review best practice concepts and share information with their teams.
According to Adele Gutman, vice president of sales, marketing and revenue at Library Hotel Collection, “We collaborate. It is critical that we include junior and senior level people together in the day-to-day conversations when we create ways to resolve issues and improve services. Not only does this give the less-experienced staff members an opportunity to be exposed to the decision making process, but we feel this helps achieve better outcomes. The senior staff members contribute from their experience and while the junior level employees add a fresh perspective -- unencumbered by experience. Together, it is an effective tool for continuous improvement. If we do not include the junior people in the conversation, we are not allowing them to gain the expertise they need to grow.”
The company takes advantage of all learning opportunities and does its best to promote from within. In fact, all of the GMs and reservations managers (and three sales directors) started in entry-level positions.
She added, “There is so much educational information available on the internet, so we share thought-provoking articles about hotel management and marketing. We also find our membership to HSMAI extremely helpful as it provides us with educational programs and resources. I also encourage our staff to sign up for free and inexpensive webinars. We find educational opportunities everywhere – we have even used tips from Anthony Melchiorri’s TV show Hotel Impossible, since it is a fun way to inspire creativity.”