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Unveiling the Potential: Job Growth and Trends in Hospitality, Culinary, and Tourism

With the hospitality industry currently the fastest-growing sector in the United States, it is imperative that employers are equipped with the necessary staff, knowledge, and technology to recover effectively from the impacts of COVID. The traditional business model of the hospitality, culinary, and tourism industry is being challenged through a post-pandemic labor demand and a surge in new technological innovations. Margaret Wong, Entrepreneur & Restaurateur of McWong Enterprises and Yue Huang Restaurant put it, frankly, “You cannot afford not to think about how you change your traditional ways with innovation and technology.”

To explore this issue, Valley Vision, in collaboration with Los Rios Community College district, held a regional Hospitality, Culinary, and Tourism careers advisory in the Greater Sacramento Region on May 11th. Panelists, labor market experts, and employers all shared insights on the challenges facing the industry. The event featured a keynote address from Margaret Wong titled “Preparing the Next Generation of Hospitality, Culinary and Tourism Industries through Innovation and Technology.” 

Additionally, at the event Aaron Wilcher, Research Manager from North/Far North Center of Excellence presented labor market information regarding careers in the hospitality, leisure, and food service industries, revealing a significant surge in job availability after the pandemic. Wilcher highlighted the remarkable changes in employment within the Far North and Greater Sacramento regions. Specifically, between December 2021 and 2022, the hospitality and leisure sector experienced a remarkable 7% increase in employment in the Far North region, while the Greater Sacramento region saw a 6% increase. These statistics paint a positive picture of the industry’s recovery from the pandemic. 

Looking ahead, Wilcher shared promising estimates for employment growth in the hospitality and food service sectors from 2021 to 2026. Projections indicate a 28% employment percent change for the hospitality sector and a 23% change for the food service sector. These numbers reflect the sector’s strong rebound and highlight the potential for continued growth. However, Wilcher acknowledged that these projections may fluctuate as economic conditions evolve., stating, “We are going to see these huge projections because we have had a dramatic rebound in the economy in this sector.”  Wilcher emphasized the importance of establishing partnerships between employers and educational institutions to expose students to a wider range of career opportunities that offer higher wages and more benefits. Wilcher’s presentation underscored the increasing job prospects in the hospitality, leisure, and food service sectors., emphasizing the need for collaboration between employers and educational institutions to support students in accessing rewarding careers in these industries.

The advisory included local panelists from a variety of employers across the sector including:

  • Diana Flores, Executive Director of the Central Kitchen & Distribution Services
  • Joel Moore, Thunder Valley Casino Resorts, Vice President of Hotel Operations
  • Jody Franklin, El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director of Tourism
  • Juan Barajas, Owner and Operator of Savory Cafe
  • Brad Cecchi, Canon, Executive Chef and Partner
  • Margaret Wong, Entrepreneur & Restaurateur of McWong Enterprises and Yue Huang Restaurant

During the panel discussion, a key focus was placed on the industry’s readiness for an ever-evolving future, the retention of workers, and the significance of fostering growth and leadership development from within. When discussing technological advancements, the conversation revolved around the benefits of adopting new technologies to streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and improve the overall customer experience. Many panelists highlighted the integration of advanced reservation systems, mobile applications, and digital payment options, emphasizing how these innovations simplify bookings, increase convenience, and provide guests with seamless interactions. However, it was acknowledged that the industry as a whole has been slow to adapt to these market changes, with Margaret Wong noting the challenges of getting traditional restaurants to embrace technological shifts by stating: “It’s hard to get traditional restaurants to adapt, it’s easy to talk about it, but harder to make the transition.”

To retain workers, panelists stressed the importance of creating programs and an environment that nurtures growth and leadership from within the organization. They agreed that offering pathways to internal promotion and providing employees with a sense of accomplishment within the industry are crucial for maintaining business operations. Brad Cecchi emphasized the significance of giving employees opportunities to succeed, stating “Everybody wants a chance to win, so giving them that opportunity is the way to go.” Retaining workers takes various forms, but the panelists unanimously recognized that increasing wages, providing paths to upper management, and offering ongoing learning and training opportunities are essential.

As our regional hospitality sector strives to recover from the pandemic, it becomes vital to prioritize technological innovation and adaptation, worker retention, and the establishment of programs and an environment that foster growth and leadership. These measures are crucial to meet the industry’s hiring needs and ensure a resilient future.

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