The Triangle has a growing hospitality need, and a partnership between N.C. Central University and Wake Technical Community College hopes to address it.
Durham is in the midst of a cultural renaissance with new restaurants and hotels opening, looking for qualified hospitality workers.
“Anywhere you drive in Durham you see a ‘Help Wanted’ sign at a retail place or restaurant, so there’s a great need for workers at all levels,” said E’Vonne Coleman, chief operating officer for the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Although the bureau has seen a need for more hospitality workers for a long time, the shortage has reached a critical point in the last year.
And Durham is not the only place that needs workers. Across the country, almost 1 million hospitality jobs remain unfilled, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Craig Spitzer, general manager of The Durham Hotel, recommended people interested in hospitality careers start in positions like valet parking, the front desk or washing dishes.
“People looking for a first job don’t realize the opportunities that come with getting a foot in the door,” he said.
The 53-bed Durham Hotel on East Chapel Hill Street opened in 2015. With the opening of the Unscripted Durham around the corner last summer, the number of downtown hotel rooms has increased from 189 hotel rooms to 721 since 2008.
Coleman agreed entry-level hospitality jobs can lead to careers.
The president and CEO of the Visitors Bureau, Shelly Green, started at McDonald’s.
Spitzer started at the front desk at a hotel in New York City and worked his way up from there. The rest of his management staff at The Durham have had similar career paths.
“It’s rare to find folks in my position that didn’t start at a line position,” he said.
However, these entry-level jobs often do not pay livable wages, leading to high turnover, said Coleman.
Spitzer said hotels often base pay on experience, meaning workers new to the industry make less than more experienced workers.
The new NCCU-Wake Tech partnership hopes to give students experience.
Starting this fall, NCCU will accept students with an associate’s degree from the Wake Tech hospitality program into upper-level courses for the Bachelor of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Administration. These students can then complete their bachelor's degree in two years and take full advantage of NCCU resources.
Jeff Hadley, the chairman of the Wake Tech College for Culinary, Hospitality Management, and Baking and Pastry Arts department, estimates 10 to 15 percent of the Wake Tech program graduates will choose to continue their education with the new partnership.
Currently, the NCCU hospitality program has 15 to 20 graduates a year. They work in industries like food service, hotels and restaurants, with some students hoping to own their own restaurant someday.
Barry Shuster, interim department chair for the NCCU Hospitality and Tourism Program, hopes to eventually get 20 to 25 students a year from the Wake Tech program.
Although Spitzer does not think a degree is necessary for people to find their way into the business, he said hospitality programs can help students discover where their interests lie, be it in sales, event planning or catering.
"I do think it gives them a leg up in getting ahead," he said, "because they’re coming in with a strong background in the industry and an understanding of what it takes to be successful.”
The Convention and Visitors Bureau has conducted recent initiatives to create a pipeline to hospitality careers. Last year, it ran a pilot program for young adults, who could attend a five-day intensive training in hospitality. At the end of the program the bureau held a job fair.
Last spring the bureau had a hospitality job fair at the Durham Convention Center, where employers recruited for over 330 positions. The fair worked out for Spitzer, who filled three positions at The Durham that had been open for some time.
Shuster said the NCCU hospitality program, based in the school of business, allows students to learn skills outside of hospitality, like accounting, finance and data analytics. It also offers an online component, meaning students can finish their four-year degree online while working in the industry.
Eventually, Shuster hopes to establish similar partnerships with the seven North Carolina community college hospitality programs, including Durham Technical Community College, which started its two-year program in 2016..
Coleman said graduates will be better equipped to work in hospitality by having a baseline set of skills that may also help them start out at better pay.
But there are some things college can't teach.
When looking for new hires, Spitzer values personality, work ethic and a desire to serve others over prior experience.
“As long as you come in with those three things, we can teach you the rest,” he said.