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MBEP’s Workforce Initiative: supporting tourism and hospitality workers in their careers post-pandemic

Approximately 16 percent of hospitality and tourism workers lost their job in 2020 due to a permanent closure or layoff. At a time of high economic insecurity, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership has taken the lead to help displaced hospitality and tourism workers find new opportunities for their skills and experience.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is preparing to reopen, Santa Cruz County has moved into the less restrictive orange tier, and depending on which Monterey Bay county you’re in, going out to drinks, dinner and a movie might be a real possibility soon.

But even as the Monterey Bay region’s hospitality and tourism industries start adjusting to less stringent pandemic restrictions, many of the employees who work for those restaurants, wineries, hotels and entertainment venues face economic uncertainty and some big unknowns.


The retail, hospitality, and tourism industries were particularly hit hard as a result of the pandemic-induced recession that resulted from state and county lockdown measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to a soon-to-be-published report from the Centers of Excellence, which provides labor market research for California’s community colleges.

To whatever degree those industries rebound, recovery isn’t going to happen overnight.

Approximately 16 percent of hospitality and tourism workers lost their job in 2020 due to a permanent closure or layoff, and the numbers of workers in those industries filing for unemployment insurance last year broke records.

Statewide, tourism and hospitality workers made up nearly half (48 percent) of the 636,394 employees notified of mass layoffs or closures from companies filing WARN notices with EDD in 2020.

The silver lining is that many of those skill sets are in high demand in certain health-related environments such as skilled nursing and senior living facilities, which have an urgent need for both healthcare jobs, and those outside of traditional healthcare fields, such as customer service, accountants and sous chefs. In addition, these jobs have much more regular hours than typical tourism-related jobs, and pay well.

Monterey Bay Economic Partnership has taken the lead in bringing resources to the region to support tourism and hospitality workers in their career pathways.

MBEP is partnering with the California Community Colleges on a Hospitality 2 Health (H2H) webpage, designed to help displaced hospitality and tourism workers find new opportunities for their skills and experience and to increase awareness of hospitality and tourism pathways and resources at our community colleges.

H2H will launch later this spring on Monterey Bay Career Connect, an online resource from MBEP’s Workforce Development Initiative and local sponsors. H2H was introduced in the City of Sacramento last year in conjunction with the California Community Colleges and local partners, and MBEP has been working for months with the community college district, the California Assisted Living Association (CALA), and the California Association of Health Facilities (CAHF) to bring similar resources to the Monterey Bay, says MBEP Workforce Development Program Manager Hayley Mears.

At the heart of it is creating awareness that, even in challenging times, opportunities exist to pursue education, skill development, or a new career pathway. H2H will share tools and resources available for hospitality and tourism employees at any phase of their career, from financial aid and Promise Grants to short-term skills training, certificate and degree programs at Cabrillo, Hartnell and Monterey Peninsula colleges, and employers in skilled nursing and senior living facilities that are hiring.

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“It’s more than just connecting people to open jobs, but also giving them a clearer picture of the pathways that exist,” says Joy Hermsen, Statewide Director for Retail/Hospitality/Tourism (R·H·T) for the California Community Colleges, Workforce Development Division.

At 115 community colleges, the California Community College District is the world’s largest educational system, says Hermsen, and an underutilized resource for people looking to get job skills, build career pathways or learn new skills to advance or transition in their careers.

We have all kinds of free and low-cost training that no one knows about. After a year, we’re at the space where people are maybe looking a little more long-term about their choices. This is a way to remind people of what their choices are, at whatever level they are in their career, whether in high school or already in a career or even after college.

— Joy Hermsen, Statewide Director for Retail/Hospitality/Tourism (R·H·T) for the California Community Colleges, Workforce Development Division

Hermsen loves to tell the story of how, on her first day as head of human resources for a large hotel company, the head chef came in to announce he was leaving for a new job at a senior living place. His new job had much more regular hours, great benefits, and it paid more. Hermsen said couldn’t do anything other than bid him farewell: There was no way she could compete with that.

Creating awareness of how easily it can be to “cross-walk” between tourism-related jobs and health care

Hermsen credits MBEP’s Workforce Development Program Manager Hayley Mears and President/CEO Kate Roberts for stepping up to bring H2H to the region and for pursuing the partnerships necessary to make it happen. “We bring ideas to the region that work and cultivate them,” says Mears. H2H is a statewide initiative, says Hermsen, but it only happens if regional leaders step up. “I’m delighted that MBEP is doing this,” says Hermsen. “I view them as a facilitator and a connector across the ecosystem. They’re pulling in the workforce piece, the training piece, the people who need the jobs, and when we find regional leaders that are doing that, it allows the synergy to make something happen.”

H2H is just one example of how MBEP’s workforce development initiative is creating a positive impact on the region.

Last year, MBEP worked to bring Degrees When Due (DWD), an equity-based national initiative, to the region to increase degree attainment among adults with “some college, no degree.” To date, 28 California postsecondary institutions across the three systems have joined Degrees When Due. Seeing this success, MBEP worked with its Monterey Bay region higher education institutions Cabrillo College, Hartnell College, Monterey Peninsula College, California State University, Monterey Bay and the University of California, Santa Cruz to join DWD’s newest cohort. To date, these colleges have identified over 4,000 students with “some college, no degree” to re-engage to earn their degree, and they are still gathering more data!

MBEP’s Workforce Initiative has been leading the conversation and creating opportunities for collaboration around career pathways since its inception. In 2018 and 2019, MBEP invited JobTrain CEO Barrie Hathaway to lead breakout and lightning round sessions, with the goal of looking outside the region for successful models that could be imported here. The Menlo Park-based nonprofit educational and training institution helps low-income individuals attain stability and provides intensive skills training for high-demand careers in the fields of healthcare, construction, IT, and culinary arts.

Hathaway described how JobTrain has been working with MBEP to fill some of the gaps that exist in the Monterey Bay region and is looking to expand programs here with intensive training opportunities that partner with local employers who can provide financial, in-kind support and internship opportunities.

When we solve this issue, of very low-income people who are caught in the cycle of poverty because they don’t have skills for the jobs employers need, we solve this problem for everybody. It’s a miraculous process.

— Barrie Hathaway, JobTrain CEO at his SOTR 2019 talk

Since sharing JobTrain’s IT Support and Services Training Program within Monterey Bay, our region has stepped up to implement new Information and Technology pathways that are accessible for students and adult learners.

One program that’s successfully addressing that need for intensive skills-based training is the newly launched IT Institute at Cabrillo College. Its first cohort wraps up its 11-week program on April 16, and a second cohort is already in the works for 2022. What’s most exciting, says Terri Oropeza, CIS faculty in charge of internships and work experience at Cabrillo, is that “all of the people that were in the cohort were exactly the kind of people we were looking for, what I call ‘grown people.’ We were looking to reach people who had not been available to access these kinds of tech jobs.”

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Participants ranged from age 25 to 60, drawing from a wide range of backgrounds, including agriculture, hospitality and construction, and a good percentage were women, “which is good,” says Oropeza, “because tech is typically very short on women. All of them have been so ecstatic about having this program available to them,” says Oropeza. Thanks to the support of the IT Institute’s five instructors and others in the cohort, almost all of those students are continuing to pursue IT pathways through further courses and work-based learning opportunities.

One student, who worked in minimum wage construction jobs his whole life, never thought a tech job was something in his reach until a friend who works in tech suggested he look into this program. He’s now ecstatic about his own future, says Oropeza. “We’ve lit that fire.”

Learn more on MBEP’s website about how MBEP’s Workforce Development Initiative works with students, educators, and employers to develop a strong workforce for the region.

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