Those in the hospitality and tourism industry know that travel can be serious business. Companies in this booming industry employ more than 14 million Americans today, and are projected to create 2 to 3 million more positions in the next six years. If these businesses are to meet America’s growing appetite for travel and recreation, however, they will need access to well-trained talent pools of qualified individuals who are passionate about this field. Career and technical education (CTE) programs offer a solution to the challenges facing the hospitality and tourism sector, and can prepare students with the skills and knowledge they need to help the industry continue to innovate and grow. However, CTE programs can only be successful if employers are ready to work together with educators to make CTE a priority.
Many businesses in the hospitality industry have already taken steps to get involved with CTE programs and support their work. A great example of such collaboration is the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s nationwide expansion of its ProStart program, which teaches students the skills for culinary arts and restaurant management careers. This association understands that a prepared workforce not only helps these individuals to start their careers, but also offers direct benefits to their businesses and their ability to succeed in a global hospitality and tourism market.
Another example that illustrates the potential of CTE programs in the hospitality and tourism industry is found at Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School in Palmer, Mass. This high school hospitality management program teaches students the career fundamentals that participants can apply in their future, and equips them with the certifications businesses need in their employees—including those from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and ServSafe. Furthermore, businesses in Pathfinder’s communities and beyond—including hotels and restaurants—are taking an active role in the program’s success by organizing work-based learning opportunities. Seniors and some juniors in Pathfinder’s Cooperative Education Program spend alternating weeks of full-time, paid employment and academic classes back at the school. Demand for these co-op students generally exceeds supply, and the participating companies receive a return on their investment through a better prepared pool of future applicants.
It’s clear that CTE offers a unique opportunity for businesses and educational institutions to work together to educate the next generation of leaders for the hospitality and tourism industry. To succeed in doing so, however, CTE programs need federal support from our leaders in Congress, particularly through increased investment in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins). Perkins is the principal source of dedicated federal funding for CTE, and provides the foundational support for programs that serve millions of students nationwide. Federal investment is not, unfortunately, keeping pace with the needs of our CTE programs though. Total Perkins Grant funding to states declined by 23 percent from Fiscal Year 2007 to FY 2014 when adjusted for inflation, despite calls from education and business leaders nationwide. These reductions have real consequences—without federal support for these kinds of programs, they can’t provide the education that students will need for their careers in hospitality and tourism or any other high-growth field.
Business leaders understand that for their industry to grow, they must invest in developing their employees today—and the same principal holds true for education. CTE programs provide an established system to invest in our students so they can someday pursue careers that will offer family-sustaining wages, including those in hospitality and tourism. To strengthen these programs and grow students’ potential, however, the education and business communities must stand as partners. I encourage leaders from these communities to tell Congress that we must make federal investment in Perkins a priority.
About the Author
LeAnn Wilson is the executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education, a national non-profit association based in Alexandria, Va.