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A New Generation Finds Opportunity in Hospitality

JFF is working with the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation on the national Hospitality Sector Apprenticeship to expand apprenticeship opportunities in new communities.

April 2, 2020

At a Glance

JFF is working with the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation on the national Hospitality Sector Apprenticeship to expand apprenticeship opportunities in new communities.

Eric M. Seleznow

This blog was originally published on

A generation ago, there were multiple pathways to middle-class careers for those with a high school education. Manufacturing, construction, and other skilled trades offered many entry-level workers a foot in the door and a helping hand up the career ladder. Even in so-called white collar jobs, there were countless examples of the young mailroom clerk who learned enough about the ins and outs of the company in his or her daily rounds to capture the attention of the C-suite and get put on a management track. But what happens to the same entry-level workers now?

It turns out, as our economy has shifted from production oriented to service oriented, many of today’s entry-level workers are finding those same kinds of opportunities in the hospitality industry.

According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, more than 50 percent of hotel general managers and many in corporate leadership positions got their start in the industry as entry-level employees. Within the restaurant industry, 9 out of 10 restaurant managers and 8 out of 10 restaurant owners started out in entry-level restaurant positions. Both sectors are expected to add significant numbers of jobs in the near future, and with today’s tighter labor market, recruiting, training, and retaining talent creates significant workforce challenges that come at a premium cost. With so much potential for turnover, employers are looking for any edge they can gain in developing productive, committed employees who see opportunities to climb their own career ladder.

To address these challenges, Jobs for the Future (JFF) is working with the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation on the national Hospitality Sector Apprenticeship. The project is made possible by more than $20.4 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand apprenticeship opportunities in new industries and new communities throughout the country.

During the announcement of the project, Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AHLA said: “Recruiting, training, and retaining employees has never been more important, given the growth of our industry and an increasingly competitive labor market. Embracing apprenticeship initiatives aligns firmly with our industry’s long-term vision to better attract and secure individuals and help them achieve the American Dream.”

Changing the Perception of Apprenticeship

For an industry as large as hospitality to embrace apprenticeship is a big deal. We know companies that use apprenticeship report higher productivity, higher retention rates, and a substantial return on investment. But for too long, too many employers, community colleges, and workforce practitioners have struggled to expand apprenticeship to more companies, occupations, and workers.

Part of the challenge has always been people’s perceptions of what apprenticeship is and who it is for. Working side by side with key hospitality industry groups, and well-known companies such as Hilton, we’re excited about the chance to break down these misconceptions and not only open more opportunities in hospitality, but also open more eyes about the possibilities of apprenticeship in other industries.

For more than 30 years, JFF has worked at the intersection of education and workforce programs, and we know that bringing together industry associations, employers, community colleges, workforce development professionals, and community groups to develop training programs that meet local needs is one of the surest ways to help all Americans get the skills they need to find family supporting careers. As apprenticeships continue to capture the interest of policymakers, employers, and career seekers, it is important to maintain standards that ensure a high baseline of quality, rigor, and protections for apprentices.

That’s what sets apprenticeship apart, and what makes it the gold standard of workforce training programs. By registering a program with the Labor Department, participants in the new hospitality sector will not only have the opportunity to earn while they learn, but will acquire either a lodging or restaurant industry credential and earn credits toward a college degree. These credentials are an important signal to employers that program participants have the unique skills and talents to succeed and grow in the hospitality industry and an important way for employees to move up the career ladder when given the opportunity.

A New Center

Apprenticeship has always meant opportunity, and we’re excited to be part of a modern movement to grow American apprenticeship in hospitality and beyond. That’s one of the reasons we recently launched the new JFF Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning.

We launched the Center alongside 350 national and international leaders in apprenticeship and work-based learning as part of a celebration for the progress made in supporting innovative apprenticeship and work-based learning strategies. Walmart is a key sponsor for this event, while providing initial funding for the launch of JFF’s new Center through a $3 million grant.

“We applaud Jobs for the Future for creating the new Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning, which will play a critical role in strengthening the skills of students and workers across the United States,” said Bridget Gainer, vice president of Global Public Affairs at Aon. “The new Center and Aon’s apprenticeship program share a common goal, providing an opportunity for talented people to develop the skills they need to compete and succeed in the economy of the future. Through our apprenticeship program, we have learned that combining classroom education with real-world experience gives students from two-year colleges a winning formula. We are proud to help these students forge a path to success.”

The event kicked off the start of National Apprenticeship Week and celebrated the history and boosted the momentum of the expanding movement to support apprenticeship and other forms of work-based learning as mainstream workforce development and talent solutions for American businesses.