Like many industries, the hospitality and tourism sector has been hard hit by staff shortages over the past few years with a declining youth population and an aging workforce combining to create significant challenges.
But a new program designed in partnership by Okanagan College (OC) and the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) will help to reduce those shortages.
The first of four new cohorts of students enrolled in the Hospitality Professional Program this fall, a flexible program open to students anywhere in the Thompson-Okanagan-Shuswap regions. The 17-week online course is followed by nine weeks of work experience in the students’ local community.
“Okanagan College is leading the way by collaborating with industry partners to respond in areas where we have real needs in the workforce,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. “This new program at Okanagan College supports our Future Ready Plan and shows how working together with the local industry can both support people who are looking for training to advance in their careers, and help businesses find much needed skilled workers.”
Students in Kelowna, Penticton and Salmon Arm began their courses in the Hospitality Professional Program in October. The online offering is accessible to students throughout the region while industry partnerships will take the training to a hands-on model for the work experience portion. The program will be offered three more times over the next two years.
“Since the classroom work can be done online and the work experience is completed in the students’ home community, this program is accessible to many people throughout our region. You don’t have to live in Kelowna to participate,” said Okanagan College President Neil Fassina. “Flexible learning options like the Hospitality Professional Program are critical as we respond to local and regional workforce needs.”
The Hospitality Professional Program bundles several existing Okanagan College courses together. Areas of study include computer skills, management and leadership training, and human resources, as well as industry certificates such as Serving It Right or FoodSafe, and two Okanagan College Certificates – Hospitality Service Training (HOST) and the Basic Accounting Certificate (BAC).
“We are very excited to be working closely with Okanagan College to help design this program and provide training opportunities to current and future tourism industry employees,” said Ellen Walker-Matthews, TOTA CEO. “This important partnership is an invaluable collaboration as the hospitality industry works to rebuild in a post-COVID world; attracting, retaining and retraining staff and building a robust workforce.”
According to a 2019 B.C. Tourism Human Resources Strategy document, the hospitality industry is facing unprecedented challenges in finding and keeping skilled workers. The report identified challenges within the industry including the reliance on workers between the ages of 15 and 24, the numbers of which are declining at a significant rate, combined with record numbers of people retiring.
“This program is designed to start people on a journey of a career, not just a job. When most people think about hospitality, we think front desk and housekeeping. But the need is and will continue to be much broader over the next few years,” said Danelle Greebe, OC’s Director of Continuing Studies. “The Hospitality Professional Program aims to meet the needs of the industry right now. We’re very excited to be able to partner with the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association to provide these courses.”
Register for the Hospitality Professional Program here.