The impact of employer driven and work-based learning opportunities for young professionals in Santa Fe
By Arnhold Lutz
It was in March 2021 when I met with the new president of the Santa Fe Community College (SFCC), Dr. Becky Rowley, to discuss the cancellation of the hospitality course at the college. Hospitality is currently the second largest industry in Santa Fe, after the government sector. The hospitality course at SFCC needs to be the feeder for young professionals in the hospitality industry here. Most of us are aware of the labor shortages in restaurants, hotels, and retail stores, and labor shortages have now reached almost all industries.
I did not want to wait until things got better. I wanted to help make things better. But how do we achieve this?
About a week after my meeting with Dr. Rowley, the general manager of La Fonda on the Plaza, Rik Blyth, organized a meeting with me, Dr. Rowley, Jenny Park ofthe LANL Foundation, and Bixente Perry, general manager of the Four Seasons. We discussed how we could solve the hospitality labor shortage for the long term. We came up with the idea to approach young professionals in high schools and present them with work-based learning opportunities in our three hotels: La Fonda on the Plaza, Four Seasons Rancho Encantado, and Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. We were willing to pay these young professionals an hourly wage while training and mentoring them. There were no requirements needed beyond showing up and being open minded and willing to learn.
I went through a very similar experience when I started my career in a hotel as a dishwasher. Today I am the managing director of the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. It was exactly that introductory hospitality experience and career path that Rik, Bixente, and I shared with young students when we began to visit high schools in Santa Fe. Hospitality is an industry where one can advance fast from a line position into a managerial position. So, we did not want this to be just a summer internship. We wanted this to be a permanent program with the opportunity for young professionals to transition from their summer job into a career path in hotels. This is the first program of its kind in New Mexico.
The Santa Fe Department of Public Schools hired a work-based learning coordinator, Jose Villareal. He became the important link between the students, the high schools, and the employers. Jose prepared these young professionals for interviews, shared with them the employers’ cultural expectations, and provided ongoing support through the program. Jose’s role was so crucial.
We had a whopping 41 applicants for our first LevelUp! summer program. After an intense interviewing process, 22 students were contracted to start their career in a hotel. Hotels are almost like small cities. There are all kinds of jobs at various leadership levels needed in hotels: from finance and administration, sales and marketing, engineering, chefs, servers, bellmen and valets, human resources (which today we call talent+culture), housekeepers, and purchasing.
From the minute the 22 young professionals walked into their hotels, we all knew it would become a big success. They were all committed and excited at the same time. A big part of the program is work-based learning. We coach these students while they work, which I believe is the best way of learning. We provided weekly feedback to the work-based learning coordinator, Jose. At the same time, Jose met weekly with the students to listen to their feedback. It is a win-win situation.
The collaboration between government, higher education, and the private sector also helped make it a success. The LANL Foundation provided all the groundwork to make the LevelUp! Program a reality. SFCC reinstated its hospitality program, and our 22 students will be the first group to attend the course. Ricky Serna, former cabinet secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions, assisted in organizing funding for the college course at Santa Fe Community College, so the students participating in the program can receive college credit.
The first LevelUp! program finishes on August 14th, 2022. Most of the students want to continue their journey in hotels, even if it is only on weekends or after school.
I asked Teo Heitzman, one of our current interns here at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi on our sales and marketing team, about his experience during the LevelUp! Program. He said, “It has been a super in-depth experience where I learned everything from greeting guests to advertising to time management. It’s not easy, but if you put in the work it will give you skills that will last for a lifetime.”
The fall Level Up! program starts on September 9. As mentioned before, we always wanted this to be a long-term solution. The City of Santa Fe’s Department of Economic Development has committed to fund the program for the next two years. This work-based learning model is not only for the hospitality industry now. Other industries can build similar programs to bring young professionals into their industry areas. It is a great model to partner with high schools and introduce careers to our future workforce.
For me, LevelUp! is a great way to be involved in our community here in Santa Fe. It is also a great way of giving back to the community which has supported the hospitality industry for so long. And last but not least, to give our young students here in Santa Fe an opportunity to enter into an industry, earn money, and potentially have a career path ahead is tremendously satisfying.
A big thank you to all involved to get this program going: LANL Foundation, SFCC, Jose Villarreal, the three hotels involved including all their management teams that worked to get it done. Of course, to the students that brought the program to life, this is your program, and it will continue for a long time to come.
Lutz Arnhold is the managing director at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. He has been working with Rosewood Hotel Group for more than 17 years. He is also vice president of the Santa Fe Lodgers Association and serves on the Occupancy Tax Advisory Board for the City of Santa Fe. He lives in Santa Fe with his wife, Samantha, and their two boys, Luis and Lukas.