Out of the ashes of a grueling pandemic, leading area hotel firm McKibbon Hospitality and the USF Muma College of Business have risen to the challenge of combating the industry's crippling workforce shortage.
Through a new partnership, the pair created a program that combines classroom-style of teaching with practical on-the-job experience. The agreement, announced Nov. 10, will provide students access to 93 teaching hotels within the McKibbon portfolio.
"We’re hoping students will be able to go into a job placement with us or inside the industry,” says Randy Hassen, president of McKibbon Hospitality, noting it’s difficult to go into the industry with only a degree and no experience. “It’s one of those industries where you have to get a foot in the door.”
The goal of the program is to create a parallel path between school and on-the-job learning, to where students will begin their career in a managerial or supervisory type of position.
While it places a strategic focus on students and will be an experiment for other colleges at USF, the program also places an emphasis on ensuring students are not only able to find jobs upon graduation — but find jobs of their choice.
Moez Limayem, the Lynn Pippenger Dean at the USF Muma College of Business, calls it a “pipeline for talent.”
“This is the key to address the talent shortage,” he says.
Six schools operate under the USF Muma College of Business umbrella, including the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. McKibbon Hospitality has been working in partnership with the hospitality school’s Sarasota-Manatee campus for the “better part of a decade,” Hassen says, noting the firm has seen students enter the workforce through McKibbon’s Courtyard and Residence Inn locations in Sarasota.
In 2013, McKibbon Hospitality Chairman John McKibbon donated a multimillion-dollar gift to the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, which established the M3 Center for Hospitality Technology on USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus and the McKibbon Endowed Chair. So the partnership is nothing new for either party.
“Our presence in Tampa with over a dozen hotels of various brands really prompted them to look at how they could give their students on-the-job training in an environment where they could learn every aspect of the hotel business,” Hassen says. The McKibbon brand ultimately decided it would be a good platform for students to learn hands-on training.
USF officials agreed. “We were looking for ways to achieve a win-win,” Limayem says. “This was a win-win-win.”
The students are the biggest winners, he says, with access to a large selection of hotels. They’ll be able to select the experience that will be the most appealing for them, he adds. “This is a game-changer. It’s a paradise for our students.”
The second winner is McKibbon, which will have access to high quality talent. And the third? The hospitality/tourism industry.
“This is great for the entire industry,” Limayem says. “All companies in the industry are hungry for talent.”
While it won’t provide a short-term solution to the worker shortage as students won’t technically be employees fulfilling certain needs, Hassen expects the program to have a long-term impact as students begin graduating. But to get there, they still have a lot of work to do.
The partners are working together with outside consultants and analysts to ensure the program is fully accredited. “There’s going to be several development meetings that we will work through to create the content,” Hassen says.
Hassen started out in the industry at a Days Inn in Georgia while attending the University of Georgia. By the time he graduated, he had worked his way up to a general manager position.
“For me, being able to offer a systematic program that allows students to advance their careers while they’re in school is really near and dear to my heart,” Hassen says. “So we’re really just trying to recreate the program that was offered to me informally and unofficially. We’re trying to put some merit behind that.”
The program has already started to have an impact on students as a few had the opportunity to help organize and work the partnership’s ceremonial kick-off event at the McKibbon Hospitality-managed Hyatt House Tampa Airport. “We are thrilled to be chosen by USF,” Hassen says. “We’re going to do great things with the USF School of Hospitality.”
“As the pandemic winds down, we have to really think about higher education,” Limayem adds, “and companies have to rethink how they go about finding talent.”