Connecting employers to talent in a growing industry: Hospitality Hires shows how it's done - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Connecting employers to talent in a growing industry: Hospitality Hires shows how it's done

Hospitality Hires is equitably developing the talent pipeline to jobs in Chicago’s tourism and hospitality industry

Image courtesy Chi Cook Works via Instagram

Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership initiative connects employers, jobs, and residents through Hospitality Hires events

As Chicago’s tourism industry continues to grow, how is the city connecting people in neighborhoods to jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry downtown?

In 2016, Phaedra Leslie, Director of Business Relations and Economic Development at the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, bumped into Ken Bennett, Senior Advisor on Public Policy/Community Affairs for Choose Chicago, the city’s official tourism organization (for fans of Grammy-award-winning artist, social activist, and overalls-sporting local hero Chance the Rapper, Ken Bennett is Chance’s father). What began as a conversation in passing about the disconnect between hospitality jobs in the city’s central business district and people in Chicago’s neighborhoods eventually gave birth to Hospitality Hires Chicago, a collaborative of hospitality employers, workforce development organizations, trade associations, and local planning organizations that connects people to employers, and prepares them for jobs along the way. Under the leadership of several key individuals within Chicago’s hospitality and tourism industry like Bennett, David Whitaker of Choose Chicago, Marc Gordon of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, and Sam Toia of the Illinois Restaurant Association, the initiative is changing the hospitality industry in Chicago.

With tourism growth, people in Chicago’s neighborhoods should have the resources and the connections to get jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry.

With tourism growth, people in Chicago’s neighborhoods should have the resources and the connections to get jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry. Hospitality Hires Chicago follows an easy formula: prepare people to get hired with interview prep, resume refreshing, and other services; bring together job seekers and hospitality employers at a day-long hiring event; and then stay in touch with everyone afterwards. What makes Hospitality Hires Chicago unique, according to Leslie, is the fact that employers are required to make a same-day conditional hire to those that want to move forward. That means that everyone who interviews at a Hospitality Hires Chicago event knows where they stand within the interviewing employer’s hiring process.

“It’s about creating access and awareness on both sides,” says Leslie. “A lot of people focus on placement, placement, placement, but what my team and I hear from the candidates is, ‘I would have never been seen by the employer if I hadn’t come to this event.’”

Hospitality Hires Chicago events occur at The Palmer House Hilton Chicago, while the prescreening and candidate prep happens pre-event at delegate agencies at 11 locations across the city and suburbs, and on site the hiring event. With a network of over 50 employers, the initiative has led to over 2,300 interviews, and placed over 250 people in jobs.

For Leslie, a key part of the work is making sure young people are being included in the process. At the last Hospitality Hires Chicago event, the breakdown of applicants by age was almost perfectly evenly divided into four categories: 18-24, 25-35, 36-50, and 50+. To further ensure that applicants from diverse backgrounds and demographics get hired, the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership funds a retail and hospitality sector center to prep job-seekers before a hiring event. Employers are also engaged before and after events through focus groups and presentations at events.

The idea, says Leslie, is simple: help to create the access to opportunity, and help companies get access to talent in the neighborhoods. Equitably developing the talent pipeline to jobs in Chicago’s tourism and hospitality industry in the Central Area requires employer leadership—and Hospitality Hires Chicago is paving the way. 

MPC’s Blogs and Data Points on community development and equity issues such as this are made possible in part by the Chicago Community Trust – Seale Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Field Foundation of Illinois, the Bowman Lingle Charitable Trust, the Conant Family Foundation, and individual donors.

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