WANTED: Real World Workforce Solutions

In 2017, the President of the United States signed an Executive Order to create employment opportunities by increasing access to apprenticeship programs in various industries, including hospitality.

And the hospitality industry represents so many opportunities. As the singular voice representing all segments of the 5 million guestrooms and 54,000 properties of the U.S. lodging industry—including major chains, independent hotels, management companies, REITs, bed and breakfasts, industry partners, and more—the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA)’s mission is to help empower the industry’s workforce and grow the professional development opportunities abundant in the hospitality business. Indeed, AHLA is proud to represent an industry that embodies a diverse and growing set of employers and employees across all segments of the lodging sector, and that includes apprenticeships.

The lodging industry has a strong commitment to investing in the men and women who are the heart of hospitality. They are our industry’s greatest resource. Indeed, our industry exemplifies the American Dream, fostering development, upward mobility, and exciting life-long careers. Nearly half of our industry’s general managers started their careers in entry-level positions, and many global C-Suite executives began their professional journeys as dishwashers, bellmen, or front desk agents. We groom talent and grow careers, supporting some 8 million jobs across the United States and paying $74 billion in wages to our employees.

For decades, one of the core aims of AHLA’s not-for-profit affiliate, the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation (AHLEF), has been enlisting new talent by funding scholarships to aspiring hospitality students while creating workforce and professional development programs—such as apprenticeship initiatives—to offer opportunities that directly allow hospitality associates to climb the ladder of success in the fields in which they aspire to thrive.


But despite being one of the largest job creators in the private sector (one of every nine jobs in the United States is supported by travel and tourism), today, 95 million Americans are unemployed. Moreover, countless young people are looking at the staggering cost of a college education with no guarantee of a job at the end and wondering what the alternatives might be.

So, what do we do?

AHLA has long since recognized the need to fuel the talent pipeline to help ensure hotels can recruit and secure talent for today’s workforce and the future generation of hospitality leaders. For over 60 years, AHLA has helped fill the talent pool and advance the lodging industry workforce through its portfolio of scholarships, workforce development initiatives, and industry-recognized certifications that prepare employees for future success.

To further address the need for a dynamic and successful workforce, in the fall of 2016, AHLA and our partners were thrilled to be awarded one of 14 industry intermediary contracts from the Department of Labor (DOL) to grow apprenticeship programs in new and high-growth industries. AHLA’s commitment to the DOL includes enrolling some 2,250 apprentices in our industry over the next five years, while immediately adding 225 apprentices by September. By press time, AHLA had not just met, but exceeded, that goal by more than 175 percent, securing more than 400 commitments from our membership.

The apprenticeship program was designed with the goal of aligning certification with the fundamentals of apprenticeship, and was constructed using more than 100 competencies found in leading AHLA certifications. The result is an industry-created, competency-based apprenticeship program that offers a direct path to upper management and credential attainment. And, apprentices in the DOL-approved AHLA program have the opportunity to earn while they learn, but also to acquire two industry certifications and credit toward a college degree.

The White House’s Executive Order to support apprenticeships is one step that approaches the problem on two levels. It encourages more industries and companies to participate in apprenticeship programs by reducing their associated regulatory burdens. It also increases the prominence and availability of such programs in “non-traditional” industries, including hospitality. We are pleased that AHLA can be a part of such unique initiatives.

Indeed, recruiting, training, and retaining employees has never been more important, given the growth of our industry and an increasingly competitive labor market. By exposing people to the wide variety of skills needed, we can open their eyes to new opportunities within the industry, identify what most appeals to them, and help them develop the knowledge they need to build a career within that space.

AHLA and AHLEF remain committed to investing in these workforce and professional development programs while also raising the funds necessary to ensure we continue to advance employees. These efforts directly service the lodging community and provide long-term career paths for future generations. Apprenticeship programs are about more than matching people with open positions; they’re about opening doors, making connections, and generating awareness about the opportunities available. If we can do that, we’ll do more than fill jobs today—we’ll build better leaders for tomorrow.


Shelly Weir


About the Author
Shelly Weir is senior vice president of career development at AHLEF.

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