The New Generation of Talent: a Career in Hospitality

By: Danielle Leroux

With ongoing labour shortages and young people leaving the hospitality sector, there is no better time to appeal to the next generation of talent: high school students.

According to a 2022 study by the Angus Reid Institute, there has been an 18% decline in the number of workers in the service sector over the last two and a half years. This includes a 22% decline among 18- to 24-year-olds and a drop of 15% among 25- to 34-year-olds.

Millennials and Generation Z may be leaving, but there are many post-secondary hospitality programs in British Columbia working to recruit high school students and demonstrate the value of a career in hospitality.

Popular programs include Camosun College’s Hospitality Management Diploma and Applied Tourism & Hospitality Management Post-Degree Diploma; Douglas College’s Hospitality Management Diploma and Hospitality Marketing Diploma; Royal Roads University’s Bachelor of Arts in Global Tourism Management or International Hotel Management; and Vancouver Island University’s Bachelor of Hospitality Management.

Hospitality programs can also be found at Vancouver Community College, Canadian Tourism College, Okanagan College, and other institutions.

These programs are designed to provide students with the skills to be career ready, advance their tourism and hospitality career, and position themselves for a leadership track in hospitality, tourism, accommodation, or food and beverage.

What Are Schools Doing to Appeal to High School Students?

Most importantly, schools are sharing the excitement and growth opportunities that await students in the hospitality industry.

“There has been a definite decline in domestic enrolment in post-secondary hospitality and tourism programs since the pandemic,” says Carl Everitt, Chair of Hospitality and Tourism Management Programs at Camosun College. “It is first and foremost in our minds. We don’t know the definite reason, but anecdotally, I think we need to change the image in our industry. It has to be more appealing and exciting to young people,” he adds. “We want to get students excited to be in an industry that has so many directions you can go into and so many transferrable skills.”

“The next generation doesn’t want linear careers.”

Transferable skills are key when appealing to high school students. “The next generation doesn’t want linear careers,” says Everitt. “They want opportunities in other areas and to be able to move around.” A career in hospitality also gives students the ability to work around the world, not to mention travel discounts within hotels and food and beverage.

Mark Elliott, Program Chair of Hospitality Management at Douglas College, adds, “The broader service sector would gladly adopt or hire on any students that graduate out of our hospitality programs because of the service skills we’re embedding in them.”

Fast career advancement is also possible. The industry used to be linear, slow, and you had to put your time in. “There are a lot more opportunities today, and you can get there a lot quicker,” notes Everitt. “We need to ensure students understand this is a serious industry to get involved with and it pays well,” adds Elliott.

“The hospitality industry is creative, innovative, and no two days are the same.”

It is ideal for someone with that skill, passion, and drive, who is seeking a fast-paced environment.

The industry also appeals to someone who loves working with people and providing meaningful experiences. “We’re an employee intensive industry,” says Elliott. “The friendships are everlasting,” adds Moira McDonald, Assistant Professor and Program Head for the Bachelor of Arts in International Hotel Management and Global Tourism Management at Royal Roads University. “You have this sense of belonging. It’s like a football team. Everybody has a role to play, and it is all connected. There is so much power in that when everyone is pulling together in the same direction.”

The new generation wants to make a positive impact in the world and the programs at Royal Roads reflect that—they teach to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

McDonald believes, “You can solve some of these big world problems from the tourism and hotel industries.” Their curriculum appeals to a broad range of interests, from conflict resolution to disaster emergency management to fiscal responsibility and revenue management. They also incorporate conversations around equity, diversity and inclusion, and work with young people to change the curriculum and co-create their experience.

What Are Some Industry Misconceptions?

The pandemic hasn’t helped misconceptions surrounding the industry. “There is this image from the pandemic that we’re an industry that shuts down,” says Everitt. “We’re seeing parents questioning why you would go into an industry that has precariousness or unpredictability about it.”

“Common misconceptions include low pay, long or unappealing hours as well as stress and burnout.”

Other common misconceptions include low pay, long or unappealing hours as well as stress and burnout. Elliott points out the expectation for 24/7 service by guests can lend itself to flexible shifts. The stress is real and guest expectations are heightened post-COVID, but executives are paying more attention to burnout and driving policies and processes that reduce it.

Everitt emphasizes the need to share those success stories and reframe the hospitality industry as an opportunity for students to travel, explore, and build a rapidly growing career. Elliott also points out, “It’s evident that we’ve come out of the pandemic more quickly than we’ve ever come out of a crisis. We’ve rebounded in terms of volume, occupancy rate, etc. The only impediment to future growth is access to an employee base. It’s a great time to join the industry from that perspective.”

What Can Industry Do to Appeal to the New Generation?

While post-secondary institutions do their part to bring in the next generation of talent, industry associations and hoteliers can also play a role. Collaboration is key. “We need to be working together to look at solutions that address labour shortages and get people excited about the industry,” says Everitt.

Elliott also suggests there is an opportunity to influence high school curriculum and bring back the tourism program previously offered to high school students in grades 11 and 12.

Employers are encouraged to connect to recent graduates by contacting schools and continue to market their workplaces as an exciting place to work with opportunities for growth, lasting relationships, and positive impacts.