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Report presents key strategies for hospitality and tourism growth

Workforce development a key component to sustainability

On July 17, an  analysis of workforce needs for the tourism and hospitality components of the Northeast Kingdom's planned EB-5 development initiative was released. A working group composed of the Vermont Department of Labor, the Agency of Commerce and the Vermont State Colleges developed the report as part of a coordinated strategy to help respond to the emerging workforce needs associated with the Northeast Kingdom economic development initiative.

Relying on EB5 projections, the report anticipates more than 1,300 new job opportunities in the tourism and hospitality industry in the Northeast Kingdom in coming years, including jobs ranging from entry level to senior management positions. The report lists relevant hospitality and tourism education and training programs in Vermont, including language programs, certificates and bachelor's degree programs. The report also details a continuum of opportunities in the sector with varying levels of necessary training.

The research indicated that regional leaders foresee several challenges in filling over 1,300 anticipated new jobs as well as a lack of awareness about hospitality careers and the pathways to access them. Businesses described a need for stronger basic skills and work readiness among new hires. To help address these challenges, the report calls for a more cogent alignment of hospitality sector education and training strategies, clear career pathways, improved work readiness and customer service training.

Preparing the workforce for new opportunities and careers is an exciting and challenging task, noted Vermont's Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan. "It will take local leadership, and collaboration among education and training providers, employers and outreach to the local workforce to see these projects succeed," Noonan said. "The combination of high-quality training opportunities delivered in the region, will facilitate access to good jobs with strong career pathways. We are working hard to help Vermonters attain these jobs and move their careers forward."

The report noted that none of the recommendations would be effective without a broader awareness of the long term career opportunities in the hospitality and tourism industry.

"In many places, nationally and internationally, a hospitality career is a pathway of choice, as opposed to a job-seeker's default decision," Deputy Secretary of Commerce Lucy Leriche said. "Given the economic impact of tourism in Vermont, we need to help strengthen Vermont's culture of hospitality and draw attention to these quality careers."

In its recommendations, the report calls for increasing access to programs that provide basic skills, work readiness and customer service training. Underlying much of the data was also the need to increase opportunities for experiential learning.

"In our conversations with regional hospitality employers, they repeatedly stressed that the most compelling asset a job-seeker could have was experience," Penne Ciaraldi of the Community College of Vermont said.

In late September 2012, Jay Peak Resort President Bill Stenger announced an economic development plan for Vermont's Northeast Kingdom that is expected to bring in $600 -$800 million dollars and create up to 10,000 jobs in the region. Plans include a 90,000 square foot facility that will house AnCBio, a Korean biotech firm, and Menck Windows, a German window manufacturer, new lodges at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain Resorts, a hotel, marina and conference center  on the waterfront in Newport, new retail and housing in downtown Newport.  Additional projects at the Newport State Airport are being funded through conventional financing. These development projects, with a staggered schedule for construction and openings, will create a need for approximately 5,000 construction jobs and another 5,000 permanent positions within the businesses expanding or opening.

After discussions with Stenger, Noonan and Agency of Commerce officials, the Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Tim Donovan agreed to appoint staff members to help out with the Northeast Kingdom economic development work. The state's team is staffed by Cindy Robillard, a long-time Department of Labor employee who has worked in the St. Johnsbury and Newport offices, Penne Ciaraldi of the Community College of Vermont, and Ann Nygard of Lyndon State College. Ciaraldi is CCV's executive director of workforce education. Nygard is director of Lyndon State College's Center for Rural Entrepreneurship.

However, Noonan observed that the state's team is "only a small corner of the quilt when it comes to people committed to economic and workforce development in the Northeast Kingdom."

"As this initiative evolves, it will inevitably reveal new needs for education and training in the Kingdom, and the state of Vermont needs to be responsive without being redundant. By coordinating our efforts, relying on programs and resources that compose the whole spectrum including all five colleges in the system, area technical centers, secondary schools, training programs, private colleges and the university, we hope to  close any skills gap that emerges," Donovan said.

The full report is available at http://tinyurl.com/pf8r64r.