Inviting Innovation: New COD Certifications Aim to Boost Understaffed Sector

The hospitality industry is back open for business… but there’s one big speed bump.

“We are experiencing a hospitality labor demand unlike any other in recent history,” says Daniel Loera, President of RevPAR Lobby Hospitality and College of the Desert industry partner. He explains that while workforce demand was surging even before the pandemic, current industry stats are nothing short of shocking.

From restaurants to hotels, one out of every 10 jobs is currently unfilled in the leisure and hospitality industries — totaling 1.6 million open jobs — according to the U.S. Department of Labor. To borrow the lingo of a busy chef, skilled workers are needed on a rail.

“The solution is community colleges like College of the Desert,” says Loera. With new stackable and industry-standard certifications, he explains, professionals can be trained quickly. Compared to four-year universities, the president says the region’s community colleges are “far more accessible to the majority of the workforce in the hospitality industry.”

For Yolanda Bender, COD Hospitality Management Instructor and CTE Level Lead Faculty for Hospitality, the spike in industry demand represents a unique opportunity for the region’s students.

“Businesses are open again, hiring and really looking for talent,” says the instructor. “I’m seeing front desk agents and basic entry-level positions getting offers of $20 to $22 an hour.”

Bender came to the College of the Desert last year, bringing a range of expertise from the private sector. At one point, she was the president of a third-party management company that oversaw a portfolio of 16 hotels and 650 employees.

Thus, the industry expert was the perfect person to kick start the region’s new “Be My Guest” project, using Strong Workforce support to expand Hospitality, Tourism and Retail curriculum. Originally focused at College of the Desert, Bender began to think bigger: “Based on what I was seeing other colleges were doing in our region, I thought, ‘We can put something together for the whole region.’”

That’s when Bender teamed up with the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI), an arm of the most well-recognized hospitality organization in the country, to build new classes. The Institute has been delivering cutting-edge training for more than 65 years and currently offers more than 20 professional certifications for every level of the hospitality business.

Now, as Inland-Desert students pursue their associate degrees, they will also be able to gain industry credentials by passing certification tests through AHLEI. For a student looking to launch a hospitality career faster, it’s the best of both worlds.

“When they graduate, they’re able to put on their resume that they have a certificate in hotel operations from AHLEI, which is a really big deal,” says Bender.

Three new courses — Hospitality Law, Hospitality Supervision, and Intro to Food and Beverage Management — launched this fall as part of the expansion. By Fall 2022, the College hopes to add Hospitality Sales and Marketing, Accounting, and Human Resources to the mix, in addition to a new work experience component.

With benchmark certifications under their belts, students will stand out from other applicants, secure higher wages and get on the fast track to better careers. For industry partners like Loera, the innovative pairing of degrees with gold-standard certificates comes just in time.

“COD’s partnership with AHLEI is invaluable to future professionals,” says Loera, who is pleased with how “in-tune” the curriculum is with real-world industry standards. He says, “As an employer, we benefit from more focused and well-prepared professionals.”

For example, the new Hospitality Law class will give students a vital legal foundation in an industry rife with particular laws that can be tricky to navigate. Bender says the course can help propel students into managerial positions as they progress in their careers.

“They’re going to be getting a lot of certificates and a lot of practical knowledge in hospitality,” says Bender. “I’m trying to prepare them with the skills they need to go out and get a high-paying job.”

These courses can open the door to a wide variety of industry opportunities. Take a full-service hotel, for instance: On top of general managers and receptionists, says Bender, there are also positions available behind the scenes in operations, sales and marketing, banquets and catering, and even finance, maintenance, and revenue management.

“There’s a perception that someone who goes into hospitality will either work at the front desk or in housekeeping,” says Bender. “But there is more to it, and it is such a rewarding career in so many ways.”

Hospitality is one of the major economic drivers in the region, with opportunities continuing to emerge. It’s no coincidence that, as shortages persist, salaries tend to surge.

“This past year, hotels and restaurants, in particular, are having a very difficult time hiring people,” says Bender. “As a result, they’re paying more, and that’s not going to go away.

“It’s the perfect time right now to start preparing our students for what’s coming.”

Currently, courses are offered entirely online. And while the College is planning to return to face-to-face instruction in January, Bender says accommodating classes are here to stay to help working students with full plates. Options will include online, hybrid and even late-start classes so learners can stagger their schedules.

“I’m seeing that fully online courses are having higher enrollment here because it’s easier for them to manage their time,” says the instructor. “I’ll always have an online class for students that need to have that flexibility.”

The future includes building a mock hotel room and front desk area where students can get hands-on experience in everything from cleaning methodology to conflict resolution and customer service. “When they do get out into the workforce,” says Bender, “they’ll be familiar with it.”

So far, three of the other 12 colleges in the Inland-Desert region have shown interest in following College of the Desert’s model. It’s a great start, according to Bender, who is sure that the new offerings will create opportunities for local students.

“They can get a job that pays very, very well, and it can change a lot of these students’ lives,” says the instructor. “I know that with this program, our students are going to be called in for interviews.”

Industry partners like Loera agree, and they are looking forward to a flourishing local talent pipeline.

As the president says, “The growth of hospitality management programs within community colleges will enable our industry to meet current and future workforce demands.”


There are a Huge Number of Restaurant Job Openings Right Now, Restaurant Business,

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