Culinary and hospitality industries work to tackle 40,000 industry job openings across NC

North Carolina

RALEIGH N.C. (WNCN) – There are not enough employees to fill tens of thousands of open hospitality positions statewide, but Triangle-area schools are hoping to bring in a new generation of life-long industry workers.

The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association estimates about 40,000 jobs in hotels and restaurants statewide remain unfilled.

Association president and CEO Lynn Minges said the connections made between culinary schools and programs are important in rebuilding a workforce hit hard during the pandemic.

“Part of the payoff for those businesses are that often they get to know those students while they’re still engaged in the classroom setting, so that when they’re graduate they are prepared and ready to accept a job hopefully at one of those businesses,” Minges said.

Jeff Hadley, Wake Tech hospitality department head, said the program has restaurants reaching out to them daily looking for staff and many are either full or part-time employees before graduation, even with an internship requirement to graduate.

“If you look around this kitchen right now I would say probably 80 percent of them are employed in some capacity,” Hadley said.

Dr. Po-Ju Chen with North Carolina Central University’s hospitality department said they see the same thing.

“Many of our students, they are not only full-time students, but they are full-time employees in the industry, so this is very different than the other disciplines,” Chen said. “We see our role as very critical not just to educate our students but support our industry too.”

Both two- and four-year programs say are working to refill classes after a drop-off in attendance during pandemic shutdowns and restrictions. But the need in the business has only grown.

“In our upper classes, we are a little light there but our intro classes are full,” Hadley said.

Wake Tech’s hospitality, culinary and baking programs total around 430 students across different campuses.

“It may be because of the pandemic, because of a financial issue, now we (have) enrollment down to 51,” Chen said.

Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 157,000 people quit the accommodations or food industry in August alone.

Culinary programs are trying to train people who will want to stay in the business longer.

“So, a lot of people left and we’re trying to pick the pieces up I guess you’d say,” Hadley said. “Make it more than just a job. They’re going to turn it into a career, go into management.”

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