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10 ways the hospitality industry is changing the way students learn

by Monica Smith

Oct 26, 2022, 1:00 PM.

Craig Rapp, FIU alumnus and Valencia College program director and professor, discusses his two-decades of experience in hospitality and the ways education is being shaped to meet the needs for the industry’s recovery.
Craig Rapp
Craig Rapp

In his seat, Craig Rapp sees the full breadth of the hospitality industry. As the program director and a professor of hospitality at Valencia College, the FIU alumnus, reflects on his real-world experience working for California Pizza Kitchen, The Cheesecake Factory and The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach and notes that the hospitality industry is experiencing an evolution.

Rapp completed his hospitality management undergraduate degree in 1998 and his graduate degree in hotel and food service management in 2002. With more than 15 years as a trainer, 10 years as a manager with several years at the corporate level, and 12 years as a full-time professor, he notes that the industry’s recovery will depend on how well professionals can address 10 key areas.

While he develops and works with full-time faculty and curriculum, these 10 areas also affect the way education is responding, and Rapp mentions that many undergraduates from Valencia College, a two-year college, transfer to FIU to become fully prepared.

1. Real-world experience

While it’s good to learn theory and systems, making real-world connections is essential. This is something Rapp does with his courses, and he mentions that like the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Valencia College works diligently to scout talent that can bring their industry expertise into the classroom.

“Having the top experts in the different classes offers students a level of quality in training and professional development,” he says. 

2. Technology

Businesses leveraged technology to help operations during COVID-19. Restaurants used digital menus, contactless delivery service and hotel check-in moved to apps. Technology is only going to grow in hospitality management and having those skills will be essential.

3. Leadership

“Being able to approach work with a management perspective and with a problem-solving type of approach, utilizing solution-based thinking will be crucial,” mentions Rapp as he discusses the nuances of the industry.

What hospitality businesses require more than ever to be successful is leadership, and this is vital considering the dynamics of the industry.

4. Customer service

How you view guests is important, states Rapp. Each guest represents an economic value. Accordingly, a customer’s lifetime value is in the millions. They spend their own money and recommend businesses they like to friends and family. Because of this, instructors need to stress the importance of customer service as consumers will spend money with businesses they like.

5. Florida hospitality

Florida’s economy is based on hospitality, and it’s shown tremendous resilience since the pandemic. After he graduated, Rapp decided to stay in Florida, and he believes that Florida is a great place for hospitality careers with all its attractions, hotels and destinations.

6. Soft skills

Understanding the way to communicate and connect is an art. In hospitality, professionals need soft skills to be able to create relationships with those they serve and work with, explains Rapp. The best managers have soft skills to keep employees on task and motivated.

“We worked with a graduate student and conducted research on what skills or competencies employers are looking for and for the last 20 to 30 years, it’s soft skills—people skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills,” expounds Rapp.

7. Training

In addition to soft skills, there are certain in-demand skills that will provide opportunities for professionals. It starts with the basics, says Rapp.

Training offers the foundation for knowledge. Those in the hospitality industry must become life-long learners to stay abreast of the newest methods, efficiencies and policies and it starts with the fundamentals, illustrates Rapp. 

8. Employees’ market

Because of the worker shortage in the hospitality industry, the need for qualified professionals and the ongoing recovery, trained professionals with education have greater freedom to choose an employer.

“Companies are having to compete again for employees,” affirms Rapp.

9. Pay and perks

Companies need to consider what and how they are compensating their employees, says Rapp. Whether it’s tuition reimbursement or pay, employers in the hospitality industry are moving toward being “employers of choice,” again to attract and retain employees.

10. Increased competition

Businesses have increased their competitive nature across the board. This is no different in hospitality. Whether it is customer service, training, pay and benefits, or the business’ offerings, organizations in the industry are looking for innovative ways to cut costs and do more with less money. For the businesses that have survived, it has required innovative solutions to stay competitive.

“Hospitality is a very diverse field we tend to do a lot of hands-on things,” concludes Rapp who believes that it all starts with curricula that mirrors the needs of the time. Having experiential, practical experience like the opportunities FIU offers will make the difference, he says.

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