Lawmakers propose free training program to help hospitality workforce shortage
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A labor shortage is hampering the rebound of the hospitality industry. Hospitality Minnesota estimates the industry is still down as many as 32,000 workers compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“We saw last summer and even last fall that some of our overnight accommodations and businesses, even in rural Minnesota where they were seeing good demand, they had to turn some people away because they didn’t have the staff,” said Ben Wogsland, the executive vice president for Hospitality Minnesota.
He hopes a proposed program could help create a pipeline.
State lawmakers are considering a bill to create a free, online hospitality training system.
“We know from national data that young people, one of the things they really want in employment right now is they want to be able to envision their career path,” said Wogsland. “They want to be able to see that there’s forward movement or upward movement so to be able to achieve a certification that they’ve achieved some level of competency is important.”
The House version would provide $275,000 in one-time funding to the University of Minnesota Tourism Center to create the free online program in partnership with Explore Minnesota Tourism. It would also provide $25,000 annually to maintain the program.
“We think for a very small price, this is going to help our industry that again that has been devastated through the COVID,” said Representative David Baker (R-Willmar), one of the authors of the legislation. “We’re still sort of healing, sort of repairing the damage that’s been done by things that are out of our control.”
He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he’d seen the shortage firsthand as a hotel owner and manager.
“We can’t get the workforce built fast enough,” said Rep. Baker. “We think the online training component will add to their industry interest to maybe stay with us.”
During Capitol hearings, the University of Minnesota Extension Tourism Center Director Xinyi Qian pledged her support for the legislation.
“The Tourism Center stands ready to mobilize a team of colleagues to create a curriculum,” said Qian. “It is critical to business survival that these new workers are properly trained.”
According to Baker, the program would be modeled after the South Dakota Department of Tourism’s Online Hospitality Training program. It was created in 2007 through a partnership with Black Hills State University.
The program features ten lessons that cover topics including how to dress professionally, customer service, and local attractions. There were a record 498 participants in 2021, according to a South Dakota Department of Tourism spokesperson.
Rep. Baker expects Minnesota’s program would cover many of the same topics.
“Everything from points of interest around Minnesota to how to properly greet people and answer a telephone, to what to look for with human trafficking,” he said. “All of those things hospitality workers should be aware of.”
Students will receive a certification upon completion of the classes.
Hospitality Minnesota estimates the program could train 4,000 people annually once it’s up and running.
“This is one tool in the toolbox we can bring to bear, and we think it makes a lot of sense for Minnesota to invest in this,” said Wogsland. “But we really need all hands on deck, and we know there are some workers who are on the bench and haven’t come back in yet, and we’re hoping when they come back, some of them are going to choose hospitality.”