The last few years have been dismal for college graduates looking for work. A National Association of Colleges and Employers student survey shows that just 41 percent of graduating seniors in 2011 left campus with an offer for employment.
A program within the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources is doing better. CAFNR’s hotel and restaurant management program has an almost 100 percent placement rate, Jim Groves, hospitality management chair said. In fact, several recent graduates have received up to three job offers each.
“And these are not jobs waiting tables,” he said. “These are supervisory or entry-level management positions with a starting salary of around $40,000.”
The short reason for the success is that the hospitality industry is expanding and changing, needing more administrative and management experts. The field is also becoming more professional, Groves said. Casinos, catering, convention centers, entertainment venues, spas, country clubs and recreational facilities, as well as the traditional hotel management and culinary arts, need college graduates with deep expertise in business, accounting, human resources and people skills as well as experience in a particular industry.
To capture the emerging diversity of the entertainment, recreational, food, hotel and hospitality industry and better prepare students, the previous name of the program, Hotel and Restaurant Management, has been dropped in favor of the more encompassing term Hospitality Management.
Changing With the Times
Once, the service and hospitality industries were career backwaters compared to a strong industrial sector, Groves said. Hotels and restaurants trained managers informally through on-the-job-training. Anyone with a college degree was probably doing something else.
As individual restaurants became parts of chains and hotels developed into multi-million dollar businesses, their need for professional management staffing began to change.
Hospitality Management at CAFNR has its roots in food science. That evolved into a hotel, restaurant and hospitality program when a group of Kansas City restaurant owners asked CAFNR to develop a program to educate professional managers, Groves said.
At that time, managers came with either a culinary or a business background. Graduates were needed that spanned both disciplines, Groves said. CAFNR joined the handful of such programs in the U.S. offering such classes. Adding hotel management courses and event and meeting planning to the mix later was a natural addition.
An Expanding Market With Advancement Opportunities
The current recession is hurting all sectors of the economy, but the hospitality industry is faring better than most, Groves said. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that between 2004 and 2014, the hospitality industry will add 17 percent in wage and salaried employment. Jobs in food services are expected to increase by 16 percent.
Graduates of college hospitality programs, particularly those with good computer skills, have good opportunities at higher end establishments, the 2010-2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Career Guide to Industries reports. The growing dominance of chain-affiliated food services and drinking places also should enhance opportunities for advancement from food-service manager positions into general manager and corporate administrative jobs, the report said.
And the hospitality industry is expanding in surprising areas, Groves said. A hot area that didn’t even formally exist a few years ago is sports venue management, a new field of professionally managed recreational and professional sports facilities that need competent leadership and marketing just like fading manufacturing sector once did.
The sports venue program is brand new, but CAFNR is already moving students into significant positions. “We have students interning with the St. Louis Cardinals’ vice president for facilities,” he said. “Two students are working with the Kansas City Chiefs, and we have others in various college athletic programs.”
Work Hard, Be Successful
Groves said the hospitality industry offers more rapid career mobility than other industries. “A degreed professional can move upward very quickly if that person is willing to work hard, travel and take responsibility,” Groves said. “Streamlined organizational structures offer a faster route to the general manager level for those more interested in running or owning their own hospitality business.”
Groves said there are many entrepreneurial opportunities that are relatively inexpensive to get into. A CAFNR alumnus recently went from helping manage hotels to financing their development. Another used her restaurant knowledge to open an insurance company specializing in hospitality organizations.
“Entertainment, tourism and recreational facilities are recognizing the value of having hiring a professional with a four-year degree,” Groves said. “Even a neighborhood restaurant can be a million-dollar-a-year operation, and they want to achieve customer satisfaction and growth goals just like any other company. They need people with business, finance, marketing, human resources and accounting skills. And these are transferable skills that are useful to business dealing in rental cars, aircraft charter, healthcare operations, tourism operations and grocery stores. All require a strong understanding of business and customer service.”
Currently, there are more than 400 students enrolled in the program. This fall semester will see 50 freshmen attend classes, a record for the program.