As of the first quarter of 2023, leisure and hospitality job openings were near all time highs. Even as other sectors recover quickly, the hospitality industry still has nearly 2 million unfilled openings and is still short some 500,000 employees from 2020 levels, according to the Washington Post. This phenomenon has been covered in great detail as workers “moved to behind-the-scenes office work where they are more likely to have increased flexibility, stability and often better pay.” (Washington Post) With the hospitality industry making up nearly 10% of the workforce in the United States, it is imperative we recognize that these workers are highly unlikely to return to the industry and focus on a solution. As the existing professional pool has permanently shuffled, the only option to attract and keep qualified workers in the industry is through education.
According to data from the state, Georgia travel and tourism generated more than $60 billion in economic impact in 2021, only second to agriculture. With over 400,000 travel and tourism jobs available, the state is taking significant steps to ensure quality candidates are prepared to support the state economy for decades to come. The hospitality program at the University of Georgia, founded in 2019, quadrupled in size over the last four years to more than 100 full time students. In 2022, 25% of graduates were accepted into the Marriot Voyager Program, one of the most competitive management programs, while 10 students were hired by Augusta National Golf Club for the 2022 Masters Tournament. (The Georgia Virtue)
Georgia is far from the only state putting legitimate resources into hospitality education. In all 55 counties of West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice launched “Tourism Works” in early 2023 to “prepare for the projected growth of more than 21,000 annual job openings through 2025”, with 10,00 of those expected to be $60,000+ salaried management positions. West Virginia tourism brought in approximately $5 billion in 2022, a state record. (WBOY News) At University of South Florida, the number of students taking hospitality courses is increasing “200-300% every single semester since we expanded the major only two semesters ago.” (University of South Florida) Lastly, as Texas A&M recognized that “employment in hospitality and hotel management over the next 10 years (will) grow 6.3% nationally and 17.2%,” they chose to launch a new department of Hospitality, Hotel Management, and Tourism in 2023. (Texas A&M University)
Although these numbers are relatively small, it points to an ongoing seismic shift in young adult interest in hospitality. On a macro level, food content and accessibility are constantly reaching new heights, allowing the average young consumer to learn and engage with the industry in completely new ways. Additionally, inspired by restaurateurs like Danny Meyer through his NY Times best seller “Setting the Table” or Will Guidara, who recently published “Unreasonable Hospitality”, a significant number of young professionals believe that a career in hospitality is possible. Instead of being an industry someone is forced to work in, hospitality is becoming a legitimate, attractive, and potentially lucrative career option. And if hospitality programs are able to attract top talent before they enter the workforce, and build relationships with prestigious, global brands, the likelihood of them staying within the industry goes up exponentially.
On a personal note, I am an example of this exact change. I left my stable banking job in banking in New York City to attend the Institute of Culinary Education, studying restaurant and culinary management. I worked in two fine dining restaurants in Manhattan, being promoted in both roles, before eventually combining my finance and hospitality background to work at Branded. I can personally attest that hours of Food Network television and individuals like Danny Meyer and Will Guidara played integral roles in shaping my eventual career path.
As all labor continues to be a struggle in hospitality, it is clear the industry will never recover the hundreds of thousands of employees lost through the pandemic. The best path forward will have to come through education programs that champion the hospitality leaders of tomorrow.