About a third of the workforce for Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Waikiki will retire in the next five years, according to Kelly Sanders, area managing director for the resort chain.
Other local hotels across the state face similar challenges. Although many Hawaii families are touched by tourism, visitor industry leaders say hospitality careers are not always top of mind. Take, for instance, Waipahu High School student LJ Immanuel Tamayo, whose mother is a hotel housekeeper. Tamayo always knew that tourism provided for his family, but he wasn’t seriously considering a career in the industry until he enrolled in his school’s Academy of Hospitality & Tourism.
“I was leaning in a different direction. I thought that I wanted to be an interior designer. But I enrolled in the academy and really enjoyed it,” said Tamayo, who plans to enroll in the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Travel Industry Management. “One day I want to be a hotel general manager or own a hotel.”
Under the tutelage of teacher Todd Nakayama, the academy is nudging more high-schoolers toward tourism. It and others like it are the industry’s best defense in the ongoing struggle to attract quality employees with the local knowledge that sets Hawaii apart from other destinations, said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Lodging and Tourism Association. That’s why Nakayama was recently honored as the first recipient of HLTA’s Hospitality Educator of the Year Award, which was added this year to the Na Po‘e Pa‘ahana (hardworking people) Awards lineup.
“Hospitality Educator of the Year is to recognize the teachers and professors who are giving young people the tools and knowledge they need to enjoy great careers in the hospitality industry here and elsewhere,” Hannemann said. “The earlier we can make young people aware and educated about the opportunities that await them in the industry, the earlier they can zero in on a career.”
Need for workers
Preparing students to succeed after school, whether it’s in college or a career, is important, said schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. Academy graduates have pursued and landed careers in Hawaii’s hospitality industry thanks to internships that they secured through the school’s and Nakayama’s relationships with businesses from Atlantis Adventures to Outrigger Enterprises Group.
Learning more about careers is meaningful for students who plan to go to college so they can narrow their choices, Matayoshi said. It’s also critical to work with the industry to prepare students who plan to go straight into the workforce, she added.
“Demographically across the state, the baby boomers are getting ready to retire. There will be a large number retiring from the workforce. Business leaders have talked to us about the need to have young people take on those jobs,” Matayoshi said. “Programs like this one are really important for showing students how education is connected to future work.”
Starwood’s Sanders said career academies like the one at Waipahu High School are vital to developing the next generation of homegrown talent.
“We have many wonderful associates who have been with us for 20 to 30 years in all departments, so when you look ahead at the next five years, we have almost a third of our associates who will be reaching retirement age,” Sanders said.
Filling so many jobs at once won’t be easy for Starwood, but Sanders said the company has a proactive approach that includes outreach to local community colleges and universities.
“On the high school level, we host various job-shadow days for individual schools throughout the year, and (in February) we hosted more than 120 students for Groundhog Job Shadow Day at all four of our Waikiki properties,” he said. “These students came from schools such as Farrington, Kaiser, Kailua, Waipahu, McKinley, Roosevelt, Kaimuki, Campbell and University Lab School.”
Getting kids involved
Aggressive outreach is important since retirement isn’t the only issue contributing to workforce shortages. A number of new hotel openings also have created more jobs for the industry to fill. The Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina aims to hire 750 people before it opens May 27. The Hilton Garden Inn also is hiring a couple hundred workers.
Matayoshi said the realization that today’s youth have a role to play in fulfilling tourism’s workforce needs of tomorrow has led to much earlier recruitment of students than in years past. While it’s good news that college enrollment for Hawaii students has climbed, many students still are going directly to work. According to the latest Hawaii college survey conducted in 2014, some 44 percent of students graduating that year were not headed to college immediately after high school.
“College readiness is still very important, but there’s also a recognition that there are very good jobs that need to be filled and instead require a high level of skill and post-high-school training. They pay well and allow students to look beyond academics,” she said.
Waipahu High School Principal Keith Hayashi, who saw college enrollment by his students climb from 43 percent in 2012 to 53 percent in 2014, said the program also works to lower the high school dropout rate. Benefits like these are why Waipahu High has five business educators, the most of any school in the state.
“We’ve augmented the program through two federal Smaller Learning Communities grants. There was a lot of discussion about how to engage students and how to personalize their experience, especially in grades nine and 10 where there is the highest propensity to drop out,” Hayashi said. “We’ve got 2,500 students; it’s easy to get lost. But when you have passionate educators and kids who are passionate about learning, you get the best of both worlds.”
Hayashi said the school soon will pursue national certification for its hospitality and tourism academy. It also plans to pair that program with its culinary academy to give students broader flexibility. Students will continue to have access to early college, Advanced Placement courses and industry partnerships.
Nakayama’s former students have thrived in the environment that he and Hayashi have created.
“I think teaching is about finding the want of people — finding what they want to do, finding what they are passionate about and why they get up in the morning,” he said. “It tries to inspire them to find what it is about them that is unique. Hopefully, they will bring that to the industry.”
Pattern of success
Success stories abound. One student, Patrick Concepcion, interned with Outrigger the summer after his junior year. Three months before high school graduation, he was offered a part-time position, and less than six months later began working full time. He was named employee of the month and became a manager. He is now attending college and paying for his own tuition.
Another of Nakayama’s former students, Aimee Bagolor, wasn’t sure what career she wanted to pursue until she completed an internship with Sheraton during her junior year. That internship inspired her to enter the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ hospitality program. She worked in events management in Las Vegas and also completed a six-month internship on Guam. After going through Sheraton’s management training program, she began working at two different Oahu hotels.
Alyssa Docus received an internship after her sophomore year at Atlantis Adventures. By her junior year she had turned the opportunity into a full-time job, which helped her family with expenses. She’s now saving money to attend college.
Nakayama has been just as successful as his students. In addition to his most recent award, he has been honored with the National Lamp of Knowledge Award for outstanding high school educator, the Teacher of Excellence Award, the Heald Business College High School Teacher of the Year Award, the Walmart High School Teacher of the Year Award and the Lex Brodie Thank You … Very Much! Award.
But Nakayama said he is more gratified by the success of his students and what he knows they can bring to an aging and growing industry. Nakayama said he wants to ensure that before retiring, tourism workers have the opportunity to pass their knowledge of Hawaii’s heritage and unique culture to the next generation. He said he has about 60 students waiting for the chance.
“My goal is for them to have one or two contacts from the business industry when they leave here. I don’t want them to just have my name in their reference list,” Nakayama said. “We need to create a system where we are teaching into the next generation. There’s a saying when the old man dies, so does history. We don’t want that to happen here.”