By Chip Rogers & Carol Dover, Guest Columnists, Orlando Sentinel
As the first American city to surpass 70 million annual visitors, the city of Orlando has the opportunity to expand what has already been an impactful partnership and synergy between the hotel industry and opportunity youth. With hospitality and tourism bringing over $70 billion to the city annually, our ability to continue building on this progress hinges on bridging the gap and connecting our youth to meaningful careers in the hotel industry.
Right now, Orlando unemployment is 2.7 percent but youth unemployment is 14.6 percent. Meanwhile, the Orlando hotel industry has more than 7,600 job openings annually and nearly 400 positions open currently.
Finding pathways for young people to fill hospitality job vacancies is critical to Orlando’s future and a mission that drives our associations forward. The American Hotel and Lodging Educational Foundation (AHLEF) visited Florida in March to award two deserving Orlando community-based organizations — After-School All-Stars and Second Harvest — $75,000 in grants to train deserving individuals to join the hospitality industry. After-School All-Stars, which offers employment readiness and guidance to area high school students, will now expand to at least two additional schools. And, Second Harvest, which provides training for individuals entering the culinary industry, will continue to grow its influence to provide resources for individuals, such as Johnny who shared his inspirational story at our announcement event.
Johnny grew up in a local housing project with absentee parents. Often surviving by illegal means, at one point, Johnny sadly found himself in a juvenile detention center. What was a rare light in an otherwise difficult life, Johnny spent Sundays cooking with his grandmother. He was a natural cook and decided to pursue a culinary career. But, Johnny was hindered by his past record and was unable to afford private training, making his transition difficult. Eventually, he found Second Harvest, which provided training and the skills necessary for Johnny to begin a career that he was passionate about as a cook at an area hotel.
Johnny is not alone. There are so many others who — with training and guidance — can begin a meaningful career in the hotel industry.
Openings in the hospitality industry present a significant opportunity for meaningful careers among “Opportunity Youth” — those aged 16 to 24 who are neither employed nor enrolled in school but have the willingness to work hard. Recent statistics have found that labor force participation rate for all youth is over 60 percent, with youth unemployment rates staggeringly more than double the unemployment rate of prime-age working people.
Opportunity youth have the potential to thrive in the hotel industry. All they need is a simple introduction. Hotels bridge the divide by providing a pathway to career advancement and continued professional development. In a recent industry survey, 60 percent of respondents stated that more than half of their managers began in an entry level position. Impressively, 40 percent said the same of their hotel’s corporate executives. In fact, eight out of 10 entry-level employees are eligible for promotion within a year.
Orlando is a bustling hub for tourism, and we invite and encourage the younger generation to be a part of it. Through investment in workforce development and training, we are committed to ensuring that the next generation has the chance to thrive in a meaningful career in the hotel industry here in Orlando.
Chip Rogers is president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, and Carol Dover is president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.