By Phil Bruno

In my line of work, I talk to a lot of employees and middle managers in the hospitality and tourism industry. I also talk to former employees—people who once worked in the industry but left for various reasons. One particular thing those former employees said surprised and intrigued me: That the skills and work ethic they possessed far surpassed those of their co-workers in their new jobs.

This is worth drilling deeper. Just which skills did they learn while working in the hospitality and tourism industry? How were they being used in new roles in other industries?

And the most important question of all: Why isn’t the industry advertising this?

It’s no secret that hospitality and tourism has one of the highest employee turnover rates of any industry, nor that it is still recovering from losing a full 75% of its workforce in the wake of the pandemic. To rebuild, it must succeed at recruiting a new generation of hospitality workers.

And what does this new generation want? Sure, they want pay and benefits. But a whopping 57.2% of hotel and hospitality workers say they want the opportunity to learn new skills. And 42% of millennials across industries say that “learning and development” is the single-most-important benefit when deciding where to work.

In other words, one of the best ways to attract a new generation of workers to the hospitality and tourism industry is to tell them (and show them) all the useful skills they can learn while working. Every employer should be shouting this from the rooftops.

But What Skills Do They Learn?

So what skills did my conversations with former industry employees uncover? Here are a few:

How to Read People. Is the guest asking to speak with the manager angry, happy, or just plain tired? Does the dad to whom you just gave directions nod with understanding, or does he still have a “lost” look in his eyes? Is the family at the corner table having a good time, or do they seem impatient and frayed? Every interaction with a guest is an exercise in reading people, especially their tone and their body language. A veteran of the hospitality and tourism industry often can tell, as soon as a customer walks in the door, whether they will be pleasant or troublesome, and whether they will need help or are ready to have some fun…or will end up wanting to speak with the manager. That ability to read people is helpful everywhere, from the retail floor to the board room.

A Sense of Urgency. Everything in the hospitality and tourism industry is on a clock. Tours leave on the hour; food must be prepared and served in a reasonable timeframe; hotel rooms must be turned over so everything is perfect for the next guest before they arrive. The sense of urgency one learns in the industry makes for a very productive and proactive employee—something managers love, no matter where a career takes you.

Attention to Detail/Getting Things Right. Impressions matter when dealing with guests, which means that hospitality and tourism teaches employees to “sweat the small stuff.” This skill, too, is universal: Really, there is little difference between paying attention to the precise way a napkin needs to be folded, and paying attention to inventory being cataloged and organized in a warehouse, or paying attention to the use of colors, shapes, and words in a marketing brochure.

Multi-Tasking. Few jobs in the industry require an employee to do one thing and one thing only. Employees have to learn to juggle competing demands for their time and attention, switching among contexts and tasks rapidly. There are few industries where people get to practice this skill on a nearly daily basis.

Interpersonal Skills. This includes not only communication skills, but things like empathy, active listening, patience, tolerance, cultural awareness, and etiquette. Employees learn how to deal with people who might be experiencing a range of emotions on any given day, and to do so with style and grace. Employees in hospitality and tourism use these skills more in the course of a week than most jobs do in the course of an entire year.

And That’s Just the Tip of the Iceberg. I haven’t even mentioned things like problem-solving and teamwork, or the dozen other skills that employees learn while on the job. But you get the idea: There are many skills that can be learned—and not just learned, but practiced frequently and even mastered.

Wait—So We Train Them for Jobs in Other Industries?

Not at all. In a perfect world, employees in this industry would learn valuable skills and continue to use them in the industry. There would be a clear career path for anyone able and willing to learn the ropes, so to speak.

What I am saying is that the skills one can learn in this industry are invaluable, and they are not specific to hospitality and tourism. They are universal skills that would be relevant for almost any job. And that is a great selling point which will attract a new generation of workers to the industry.

Think of it this way: What attracts students to attend a college or university? Hopefully, a large part of what attracts them is the idea that they will learn a thing or two. Colleges and universities make that promise without worrying whether their students will, in turn, become college professors themselves. But somehow, the higher education system never seems to lack professors ready to teach the next generation.

The same can be true in our industry. We can advertise the rich learning opportunity that is employment in hospitality and tourism, and doing so will attract new talent. Do it right, and we won’t have to worry about a dip in employment again.