LONGBOAT KEY -- As Florida faces a 17,000-person shortage for open hospitality jobs across the state, a new program between the Resort at Longboat Key Club and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee hopes to take a chunk out of that gap.
The AAA four-diamond resort will become a "teaching hotel" this fall for USF's College of Hospitality & Technology Leadership program that will have students spend 16 hours total working in leadership, front desk, housekeeping and food and beverage areas in the hotel to get on-the-job training.
"You're in real-life situations here at the resort," general manager Jeff Mayers said at a press conference Wednesday at the resort. "When you're in the classroom, you could talk about theories, you could talk about processes, but when you're actually exposed to the day-to-day operation, it really makes you think about how to respond to a decision. That exposure is really going to benefit the students."
The program helps the university's goal of being a top 10 hospitality school by 2020, said College of Hospitality Dean Cihan Cobanoglu. Some schools that compete against USFSM for students have their own campus hotels paid for by state dollars that double as a teaching hotel, so with money tight in Florida for higher education, USFSM went the public-private partnership route, the dean said.
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"This particular hotel will be an amazing opportunity for our students to be able to learn the theory in the class and bring that into a real-world scenario here," Cobanoglu said. "They will be working with the managers, they will be shadowing them and most importantly, when they go back into the classroom next week, they will talk about it."
The teaching lab will be headed up by Keith Barron, who teaches Introduction to Hospitality and Tourism at USFSM this fall, with the assistance of Serder Ongan from USFSM and the resort's human resources managers, Tamara Rogers and Mey Vidal-Parades.
"I believe that through this partnership, we will have amazing innovation come out of it because students aren't going to simply passively shadow," Cobanoglu said. "They are going to be part of this organization."
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association estimates 17,000 hospitality jobs are unfilled in the state. In the Bradenton-Sarasota-North Port metro area, about 13.5 to 14.7 percent of the 262,000-person workforce is employed in leisure and hospitality, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which accounts for 36,000 to 38,500 workers.
The struggle is real to find enough qualified employees as tourism is projected to grow both locally and to 100 million annual visitors in Florida, Cobanoglu said.
"It's difficult," Mayers said. "If you look at downtown Sarasota where more hotels are coming online, we really need to create a foundation for the future, maybe for the high schools all the way to the college ranks to supply the labor that is needed to welcome visitors to our area."
Talks with high schools in the area are at a "very preliminary" stage, he added.
"I would welcome to have a curriculum at the high school level," Mayers said. "I believe it creates a foundation for individuals who are working while they are in school and learning about our business."
Tracy Kotowski, 20, is a junior hospitality student at USFSM, who loves the sound of the program. She already took Introduction to Hospitality, which would be part of the program at the resort.
"I think I would be really excited because it's such a big place," Kotowski said. "It's not a downtown Motel 6. It's such at the other end of the spectrum."
Kotowski, of Sykesville, Md., hopes to remain in the area to take a hospitality job, especially now that some of her family decided to move from Maryland after they saw how nice the area was. Ideally, she'd like to work for a Marriott property, which can range from a Fairfield Inn to a Gaylord Hotel and Ritz-Carlton.
"There are plenty of opportunities and a lot of them are hiring right now because it's almost snowbird season," she said.
The program will help college students manage one of the most challenging aspects of any supervisor: people.
"As most businesses, it's about managing people which will determine your success and opportunities," Mayers said. "Being able to learn some of those decisions have to be made and why those decisions have to be made will hopefully provide a frame of reference for the future."
The partnership also opens up chances for both the students and the school at other properties run by the resort's owners, Ocean Properties. The Delray Beach-based company owns more than 100 properties across the country, including Courtyard by Marriott on Bradenton's Riverwalk, Holiday Inn Lido Beach and the Sandcastle Resort at Lido Beach.
"They will be exposed to people from all over the world," Cobanoglu said.
The school and the resort also announced Wednesday that USFSM's annual fund-raising dinner/final exam for hospitality students HospitaBull will be held at the resort's Harborside Ballroom. Also, food and wine event Bacchus on the Beach will donate proceeds to the USFSM College of Hospitality, Mayers said. The event at the Longboat Key Club runs from Oct. 31-Nov. 1 and tickets can be purchased at www.longboatkeyclub.com/bacchus-on-the-beach.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter