By Jennifer L. Drey
The Washington Hospitality Association
is hoping to see more job seekers land work in the hospitality industry this
year through a proposed bill in the state Legislature.
The bill would provide $150,000 for the
association’s nonprofit educational wing to use to hold career fairs focused on
on-the-job-learning opportunities, said David Faro, director of the
association’s Education Foundation.
House Bill 1556, which would establish
the Opportunities for Employment in Hospitality Grant, targets underserved
groups, including those experiencing homelessness, those re-entering the
workforce after an extended absence, veterans and spouses of veterans. A
companion Senate Bill 5808, also has been introduced in the state Senate.
Of the funding, $120,000 would go to
the foundation to be used to hold four career fairs in four geographic regions
of the state. The other $30,000 would be used to offer wrap-around services,
such as child care, transportation, job coaching and networking, in partnership
with the Washington Employment Security Department.
“Our state should use every tool available to increase
employment, and doubly so for those who are too often excluded from the job
market,” said Rep. Jared Mead, D-Mill Creek, who sponsored the House bill.
For restaurant and hotel operators, the grant has the
potential to provide much needed relief from an ongoing labor shortage that has
worsened in recent years. In a 2018 survey, 41 percent of the Washington
Hospitality Association’s restaurant members reported finding and keeping
employees as their greatest business challenge, a figure that was more than
double from the 20 percent that reported labor as a top challenge when surveyed
Hotel owners experienced a similar trend. In 2018, 37
percent of the association’s hotel members said finding and keeping employees
was their top business challenge, up from 23 percent who reported it as the top
challenge two years earlier.
At the same time, the restaurant and lodging industries in
Benton and Franklin counties continue to grow. Restaurant sales increased by 25
percent in Benton County between 2014-17 and by 31 percent in Franklin County
during that time.
Hotel sales figures jumped by 29 percent in Benton County
and by 19 percent in Franklin County between 2014-17, according to data
provided by the association.
At Hops n Drops, formerly Hop Jacks, which has restaurants
in Richland and Kennewick, director of operations Jeff Morgan said the local
labor market is as tight as the company has seen since coming to the area in
2013. Hops n Drops has 19 locations in Washington, Oregon and Colorado and
employs more than 1,000 employees companywide.
“Tri-Cities is not as
tough as Seattle, but it’s as tough as I’ve ever seen it,” said Morgan, who
also serves on the board of the Washington Hospitality Association Education
Morgan and Faro both believe that the proposed funding is
important because it would provide another way for employers to connect with
prospective employees in a competitive market.
“We know the need in our industry, and to call it ‘massive’
would be an understatement,” Faro said. “There are people who can’t open new
stores right now. They could — the market is there and the business is there —
they just can’t find the employees right now.”
Having hosted career fairs in 2017 and 2018 that averaged
110 job placements per event, Faro said the Education Foundation already has
the know-how to host successful career fair events, but it currently lacks the
funding. The money that supported the foundation’s prior career fairs dried up
due to changes in funding cycles and other factors but not before placing
nearly 500 people into jobs in the hospitality industry.
The foundation believes it could double or even triple that
amount of job placements with the money that would be provided by Opportunities
for Employment in Hospitality Grant because of its focus on additional
underserved groups, Faro said.
“We’re looking to do this again because the number of jobs
we brought to the table was in the thousands,” he said. “At any one of these
hiring events, had every job that we brought been filled, we would have filled
over 1,000 jobs.”
The foundation has not yet hosted a career fair in the Tri-Cities
but hopes to do so this year or next.
In Pierce County, where the foundation held career fairs in
2017 and 2018, Tom Pavlik, general manager Hotel Murano in Tacoma, said he
hired 12 of the hotel’s 200 employees between the two events. He found the
career fairs to be a welcome alternative to using online advertising and other
more traditional routes to try to find employees.
“Everyone that shows up is willing and able. They’re looking
for new opportunities, so it was successful from that standpoint,” Pavlik said.
“There’s a number of associates we hired at the event over two years ago who
are still with us today.”
If the funding from the hospitality grant does come through,
the foundation will put an added focus on connecting attendees at its future
career fairs with opportunities for career-connected learning, a statewide
trend across all industries that promotes apprenticeship as a means of gaining
The hospitality industry is already well versed in the idea
of career-connected learning, at least on an informal level, but the foundation
is working to formalize more apprenticeships and find them a spot in community
colleges and other teaching venues.
Based on current feedback, the Washington Hospitality Association anticipates that even if the Opportunities for Employment in Hospitality Grant fails to pass as a bill, the funding may still be made available through a fiscal note in the state budget, Faro said.
The association also has been keeping a close eye on other
legislation affecting the hospitality industry, including:
• Panic buttons: The association supports legislation
(Senate Bill 5258) to protect workers by
requiring every hospitality employer to adopt a sexual harassment policy,
provide mandatory sexual harassment prevention training to all employees,
provide a list of resources for employees and provide a panic button to
isolated workers. The Senate bill was passed in February and has been referred
to the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee.
• Restrictive scheduling: The association was opposed to
proposed legislation that would have implemented restrictive scheduling
requirements for hospitality employees across Washington. The Senate bill
failed to make it out of committee, but the association will continue to monitor
the issue and look to be involved if it resurfaces in the future.
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