Photo courtesy of Columbia State Community College
By RUSSELL VANNOZZI
A nationwide labor shortage has put a strain on all types of business, but hospitality and tourism have been among the hardest-hit industries.
Staffing needs are especially noticeable in the ever-growing Nashville area, where many businesses are struggling to keep up with consumer demand. In July, Williamson County had a state-low unemployment rate of just 2.9 percent.
To help fill hospitality jobs in the area, Columbia State’s Williamson campus started a Hospitality and Tourism Management Certificate in 2016 along with assistance from the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We’re in dire need of employees (in the hospitality industry),” President and CEO of the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau Ellie Westman Chin said. “It’s awesome to have such a low unemployment rate, but we’re a growing county with growing tourism numbers. As we add hotels, restaurants and attractions, people need to work there to keep the doors open.”
The 23-hour certificate takes one year to complete and can be taken as part of an associate’s degree. Through the program’s first two years, a total of 12 students have graduated with a certificate. Columbia State’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Program Director Ken Daniel said an additional 10 students are enrolled for this year’s classes.
The program offers insight into the hospitality and tourism industry and helps students get face time and internships with companies searching for labor.
“100 percent of the program graduates have received job offers,” Daniel said. “If I had 40 students graduating in December, 40 of them could get a job in Williamson County.”
Guest speakers from area hospitality companies are often eager to speak with the Columbia State students for recruiting purposes.
“Every week I have some company calling to ask to be a guest speaker,” Daniel said. “They’ll come and talk about their career path, have a Q&A and then pass out their business card and a (job) application.”
But the program has not come without its challenges. Daniel said recruiting students has been difficult, and the lack of affordable housing in Middle Tennessee has made some hospitality jobs less than desirable.
“If someone’s making 30-40K a year, it’s tough to live in this market,” he said. “Our biggest challenge has been the lack of interest, but that’s just the (current state of) the labor market in general.”
Students from age 18 to 60 have completed the program, but Columbia State’s next focus is to offer the certificate to high school students.
Daniel is teaching Intro to Hospitality as a dual enrollment class at Nolensville High School this year. Eventually, students will be able to graduate from high school with a completed Hospitality and Tourism Management certificate from Columbia State.
“We want to get our foot inside the high schools,” he said. “Long-term, we’d like to add East Hickman, Franklin and Summit because they each already have culinary programs.”