Complete Story


Thoughts on Opportunities for our Industry's Workforce Challenges

The value of our jobs. Why front-line jobs are crucial to Ohio. Lessons learned working with education.

By Melinda Huntley, OTA Executive Director


Finding enough qualified workers.

Retaining those you have.

These are among the top challenges we hear from the OTA membership every time we reach out to you to hear what’s happening. We take these challenges very seriously, for if you do not have the proper manpower to get the job done, there is lost productivity and operational hours, and ultimately, economic consequences.

I had the opportunity to present to education experts at all levels and in about seven different states last weekend. It was part of an MBA Research Leadership Forum. The Ohio Department of Education contracts with MBA Research for some of its work, and folks from our state education office were also in attendance.

My messages to them were three-fold.

  1. An adequately prepared workforce is essential for the travel economy
  2. Front line jobs are important for developing Ohio’s workforce
  3. To really do a great job, the education community and the business community have to work together   

That’s a lot for a 30-minute time slot, right? But these messages are so important.  

Ohio’s Travel Industry is a Leading Economic Driver and Job Creator

Ohio is among the top 10 states in the nation in the number of jobs supported by travel. You heard me correctly, Top 10. Tourism is vital to Ohio’s economy and its workforce. Don’t let anybody ever tell you any different, and if they do, give me their number. Our jobs represent nearly 9% of all Ohio employment.  

We Need Candidates with Strong Business Skills, Not Just Hospitality Skills

When our industry talks about our jobs, however, we often isolate ourselves. “We need more tourism and hospitality trained workers.”  Although this is certainly the case for some of our important sectors – lodging and restaurants, as an example – we may be missing out on some great opportunities for securing candidates with strong business skills.

Mind you, this isn’t an either/or discussion, so don’t be calling me complaining that I’m dissing hospitality education. It’s vital. All I’m saying is that perhaps we’ve overlooked an opportunity to culture strong relationships with our business schools.    

Think about the jobs at your place of business. How many of them require marketing, finance or human resources skills and knowledge? Probably a lot of them. Do our potential job candidates for these positions need tourism skills, or is this knowledge that can be learned on the job and through industry training? At the end of the day, do you tend to hire more workers who have training and skills in these business jobs?

We also tend to promote from within for “a job well done,” even if that job may not have included management skills. When the Ohio Travel Association conducted front-line focus groups a few years ago, we heard from many workers that they were put in supervisory positions without the information or skills needed to excel, and this caused them frustration.    

These conversations are why I am chairing the Ohio Business Coalition for Education. This collection of associations representing industries who depend on those with business skills is looking for ways to enhance business-education relationships and opportunities, as well as to increase the awareness of business jobs and our industries.

Our Industry’s Front Line Jobs Make Ohioans Employable

US Travel followed workers who started their careers in our industry over a period of 30 years. What they found should not surprise any of us in the least, but it shocks those who aren’t in the industry our world . . . those workers who begin careers with jobs in the travel industry end up making more money throughout their career than those who start in any other industry (other than financial services.) 

The skills our workers learn in front line jobs – work ethic, customer service, etc. – make Ohioans more employable because these skills are in demand by every single industry. So how can we leverage this service we provide to workforce development efforts?

One project the Ohio Travel Association is working on at the moment is linking Ohio’s Readiness Seal to businesses who hire front-line workers. We are in conversations with the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation and the Ohio Department of Education on what it would look like if our businesses could serve as the mentors for students to obtain these diploma distinctions. We are coordinating these conversations with our friends at Ohio Hotel & Lodging as well, for this sector is an important piece. As we get closer to launching a pilot, we will keep you informed and will do additional outreach to other sectors with a large base of front line workers.

Business and Education Brainstorming and Collaboration Could Launch Great Things

So what advice did I give them?  Engage businesses in conversations, but truly make these two-way experiences. Education leaders need to know the ins-and-outs of our workforce struggles, and we need to understand theirs. When we work together, however, we have to understand that we may each be after different goals – while education is focused on student career success, business is looking at an optimal workforce. These two things are so closely related it’s just a matter of semantics. It’s tomato or tomatoe. The common ground is that when students are adequately prepared, they will succeed in their jobs, which will create greater job satisfaction, which will lead to greater retention.

As such, however, it means both of us – education and businesses – must be very careful about the language we use and avoid acronyms and confusing jargon. We also have to make sure we just aren’t “informing” each other; we need to be engaging each other in meaningful conversations.    

I also emphasized the need to properly prepare business representatives for interactions with students. Are we providing optimal internships and apprenticeships? Do we know how to do this? 

A few weeks ago I spoke to about 100 student in 3rd through 5th grade about career opportunities in our industry (mind you, the education experts are telling me students are already thinking about careers at this time. By the time they reach high school, many have their career pathways set).  These kids ate me alive. If I had been better prepared on the learning exercises appropriate for these grade levels and guidance on what information is needed, this experience would have been a whole lot less painful. And it probably would have led to greater student learning.

What are your thoughts?  Ideas?  Suggestions?  Leave them below in the comment box or email me at  I’m eager to hear from you.

Printer-Friendly Version