Funding the Next Generation of Industry Leaders
A Government Affairs Update
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Climbing the seemly never-ending uphill battle of trying to restore normal business operations in the hospitality industry has left businesses crippled from exhaustion and frustration. The persistent labor and supply chain issues have left operators working tirelessly to combat these threats with no firm resolution. The workforce crisis amplifies other operational problems across the board and the hospitality sector is in desperate need of skilled individuals who have a passion for the industry and want to build a better tomorrow. The good news is that the individuals ready to set the foundation and lead our industry are right around the corner.
Back in March, Michigan ProStart students from across the state gathered for the statewide competition in Lansing. ProStart is a nationwide, two-year high school program that unites the classroom and the industry. It develops the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice industry leaders. Before this year’s contest, the ProStart Program was at a major loss after canceling what would have been the biggest competition to date in March 2020 and returning in 2021 virtually. When the competition finally returned in 2022, no one knew what to expect. What would the program that built and inspired so many leaders in our industry look like after two years of pure devastation?
The anticipation to see the work of ProStart Students come to life grew more with each passing day and as soon as the competition began, it was clear that no matter what the past two years brought forth, the passion and talent of these young people would shine through. It stood as a solid reminder of this industry's resiliency. Hospitality is such a unique sector of our economy and if we continue investing in individuals who will one day lead and inspire the next generation of culinary experts, we will set the stage for the entire industry to thrive again one day.
In April, the MRLA hosted the winning Culinary and Management teams at its headquarters to highlight the ProStart Program with an emphasize on the importance of teaching students the ins-and-outs of the industry and how to prepare innovative restaurant-quality food.
Students attended the MRLA Board meeting where they prepared and served lunch to our Board Members and other state legislative leaders. They demonstrated to a room full of industry and state leaders precisely why the Michigan Legislature’s investment in the program will pay dividends for the considerable future. To say that the event was a success is truly an understatement.
Lamentably, consistent funding for this program has been amiss in previous years. Increased and consistent funding for this program will be vital for the industry’s return to pre-COVID employment levels—the current work force is approximately 40,000 employees short of where it needs to be. This is a void that ProStart graduates can help fill. ProStart graduates can step into a kitchen be part of the team starting on day one. They are trained, they are certified, and they want to play a role in the future of our industry.
Michigan’s hospitality industry endured the longest COVID shutdown in the nation. Our comeback will take longer, and a skilled and eager workforce will be essential to our comeback. The ProStart Program has proven that it can produce a workforce equipped to do this; it needs legislative support now more than ever.
While the ability to book hotel rooms was never shut down, the hotel and event sectors were hit just as hard, if not harder, than the restaurant industry. Leisure travel was limited, and those that did travel opted for a short-term rental instead of staying at a traditional lodging facility. Events were rescheduled multiple times and eventually canceled. Business travel continues to be limited and while occupancy rates are crawling back to pre-pandemic levels, the business travel in Michigan in 2022 is projected to be down 16% compared to 2019. The next few years in this industry will set the tone for decades.
A dedicated workforce will be tasked with helping revive Michigan’s lodging and event sectors and proper training will be imperative. Therefore, funding for the Hospitality & Tourism Management Program (HTM) is paramount, now and for years to come. Graduates of HTM are introduced to the world of hospitality and the core tenets of the industry: lodging, food and beverage, tourism, travel, and event management.
While ProStart and HTM prepare the next generation of culinary and hospitality leaders, there is an overwhelming need for management training for current hospitality industry employees, many of whom had to take on management roles unexpectedly due to staffing shortages. While their resourcefulness is admirable, ensuring that employees in management roles have proper training is why the MRLA established the Hospitality Training Institute of Michigan (HTIM). The mission of HTIM is to provide current hospitality employees with quality training to enhance their skill sets, grow operational knowledge, and advance their careers.
Both the state and federal government have been ready and willing partners to support the hospitality industry during what has been a turbulent two years. It was because of this partnership that a complete industry collapse was avoided. Words cannot express this industry's appreciation for these efforts and the countless others who were our champions. Unfortunately, the job is not yet done and will not be for a while. The next priority must be to rebuild a workforce that was extinguished through no fault of their own, and we look forward to achieving that goal with our partners in Lansing and Washington D.C.