The hospitality and tourism industry is heavily dependent on frontline staff- those employees who meet and greet the customer and help set the stage for a good or bad experience. So why do we pay them so little and why is there such high turnover? Is there hope of advancing from a frontline position to management at some point?
I have just begun teaching a START program for unemployed individuals in several Finger Lakes counties. This program was developed by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. It includes classroom time with textbooks, a student workbook, and videos along with my stories of working in the industry. It also includes a partnership with a local hotel so the students can get actual work experience in the different departments of a hotel. It is an ideal workforce training program.
So why do I feel frustrated and a bit discouraged? Any of my readers who have worked with frontline staff know that their personal life issues often intrude on their working hours. Most of my students are young single mothers who are also studying for their G.E.D’s at the same time. A noble goal and a necessary one. Their upbringing and decisions have gotten them to this place and they have huge obstacles to overcome. But it seems like they signed up for this program with the goal of obtaining a job and some job skills.
I can see that they are capable of so much, and then they all start taking time off for various appointments or not showing up at all. I have tried to impress on them that punctuality and responsibility are the most important skills to posses in this industry. We have talked about how each department functions as a team, and if one banquet server does not show up that it affects the amount of work each of the other servers has. I told them they have to think of their internship as a way of being screened for a job. And still they are telling me all the days they won’t be able to work. One young mother tells me that everything she does, she does for her daughter. And then she tells me she didn’t go to her part-time job, didn’t call in, and was fired. How does that help her daughter?
When we toured the hotel property yesterday, one of the students asked the Director of Engineering ( head of the Maintenance Department) how long it took him to become a manager. When he answered ’10 years’, I think I saw disappointment in everyone’s eyes. It would be necessary to work 10 years at close to minimum wage to become a manager? That is a long time to wait.
And then there are issues that most of us never have to deal with – lack of transportation, or limited funds that make it a challenge to just purchase khaki pants for their internship days.
So will all their personal issues and lack of workplace skills such as personal responsibility keep them from success? I am going to do my very best to help them overcome those challenges with my industry expertise and guidance into how they need to act. I hope they will show up at class and at the hotel with their positive attitudes. Wish us luck.