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Hospitality, Tourism Management is Focus of New Program

Michigan high school students get introduced to career pathways

By Kathy Gibbons

Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge is providing on-site space for high school students studying hospitality and tourism management. || Courtesy of Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge

Like the rest of the nation, Michigan’s hospitality industry has been feeling the pinch of having more job openings than people to staff them. Industry leaders in the state are stepping in with a Hospitality and Tourism Management program they hope will fill some of the gap long-term.

The Michigan Hospitality Foundation (MHF), the nonprofit associated with the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA), is working with educational entities across Michigan on the new hospitality and tourism management program that brings students into the curriculum while they’re high school juniors and seniors and lets them earn articulated college credit along the way. The idea is to introduce them to various aspects of the industry early with the hope they’ll discover a path that leads to a career.

“It could be a single-year program, but right now we’re encouraging a two-year program: one year for curriculum, one year for externships,” says Amanda Smith, MHF executive director and MRLA executive vice president. The MHF has already been running a program focused on culinary careers, called ProStart, that is offered in 74 high schools and tech centers across Michigan, Smith says. It’s part of a nationwide two-year high school curriculum that combines classroom lessons with industry experience to help students transition from school to career. The new hospitality and tourism management program is modeled to operate similarly, aiming to eventually filling some of the approximately 20,000 jobs Smith estimates are currently open in the industry statewide.

“We sort of administer the curriculum,” Smith explains. “We support the program, basically. … Different programs are going to do things differently, but they all have the same learning objectives.

 “The program is designed to put you into work. It gives you three access points: college access, apprenticeship readiness, or work readiness. They have articulated college credit, [which means] they [colleges] are waiving classes.”

Colleges participating in the hospitality and tourism management program at some level include Ferris State University, Northwood University, and Delta College. “We’re working on getting more articulated credit from other places, but a lot of times, the local school will start with their community colleges,” Smith says. “And we’re working on universities.”

Hospitality and tourism management teachers attended a training and team-building session in August 2023. || Courtesy of Amanda Smith

In Saginaw, the MHF worked with the Saginaw Intermediate School District to obtain a department of education grant and launch the hospitality and tourism management program, which completed a pilot at the Saginaw Career Complex last year and is fully operational for 2023-24; as are about seven others across the state. “Saginaw did the pilot and the ISD [intermediate school district] sort of led the charge,” Smith says.

Saginaw is partnering with the Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge in Frankenmuth, where students actually go on-site for classes. Jenny Geno, executive director of Saginaw Intermediate School District Career and Technical Education, says that helps give students “an immersive experience.”

“Simulated experiences work great in some respects, but really, if they’re going to be cultivating a generation of folks going into the industry and tourism, they need to see what it looks like and feels like,” Geno says. “The other thing is we have a classroom back at our career center, but building it out with equipment and things like that to be able to cover the expansiveness of the hospitality industry isn’t really cost effective. If you’re talking about waterpark management, they’re learning at the waterpark. It’s the same thing with lodging.”

“We’re a tourism-based economy,” Smith says. ”We have all this fresh water, lakeshore—all these opportunities. We have hundreds of thousands of positions inside this industry that make head of household wages. There’s just so many paths forward.”