A labor shortage is hampering the rebound of the hospitality industry. Hospitality Minnesota estimates the industry is still down 32,000 workers from 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 saw good demand, they had to turn some people away because they didn’t didn’t have the staff,” said Ben Wogsland, executive vice president of Hospitality Minnesota.
He hopes a proposed program could help create a pipeline.
State lawmakers are considering a bill to create a free online hotel training system.
“We know from national data that young people, one of the things they really want in employment right now is that they want to be able to look at their career path,” said Wogland. “They want to be able to see that there’s forward or upward movement, so it’s important to be able to get certification that they’ve reached a certain level of skill. “
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 per year to maintain the program.
“We believe that for a very small price, this is going to help our industry which, again, has been devastated by COVID,” said Rep. David Baker (R-Willmar), one of the authors of the legislation. “We’re always healing, sort of undoing the damage caused by things that are beyond our control.”
He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that he had witnessed the shortage as a hotel owner and manager.
“We can’t build the workforce fast enough,” Rep. Baker said. “We think the online training component will add to their industry interest in possibly staying with us.”
During the Capitol hearings, the director of the University of Minnesota’s extension tourism center, Xinyi Qian, pledged her support for the legislation.
“The Tourism Center is ready to mobilize a team of colleagues to create a program,” Qian said. “It is essential for the survival of the company 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 includes ten lessons that cover topics such as how to dress professionally, customer service and local attractions. There was a record 498 attendees in 2021, according to a spokesperson for the South Dakota Department of Tourism.
Rep. Baker expects Minnesota’s curriculum to cover many of the same topics.
“Everything from points of interest around Minnesota to how to properly greet people and answer the phone, to what to look for with human trafficking,” he said. “All those things that hospitality workers should be aware of.”
Students will receive a certificate at the end of the course.
Hospitality Minnesota estimates that the program could train 4,000 people a year once it is operational.
“It’s a tool in the toolbox that we can use, and we think it makes a lot of sense for Minnesota to invest in this area,” Wogsland said. “But we really need everyone on deck, and we know there are workers who are on the bench who have not yet returned, and we hope that when they return, some of them they will choose hospitality. ”