At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all now too familiar with the “Staff Needed” signs that you see outside the restaurants, shops, and cafes across our cities. There is no denying that the tourism and hospitality sector has been the hardest hit over the course of many months of lockdowns, restrictions, and cancellations. The lasting duration of the pandemic has given people the time to relocate outside of the city, rethink whether or not hospitality is right for them, and for some, ultimately leave their careers behind, creating a dire need to retain current talent and increasing the demand for new skilled staff across the industry.

Earlier this year, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries presented Destination Toronto with an opportunity to begin to address some of these issues, providing funding for a new project to assist with the return to work in the hospitality sector. In partnership with the City of Toronto, Mississauga Tourism, and the Tourism Office, City of Brampton, we have created Hospitality EDGE, a new collection of free educational opportunities for current, sidelined, and aspiring hospitality workers in our region. The courses can be accessed through the new online gateway, Hospitality EDGE, and will be available until March 31, 2022. 

During the planning process of the program, we quickly realized that a strong ecosystem of support and educational content for hospitality workers already exists, so we focused on adding value with curated content and making it widely available for those who need it most. Our goal: to facilitate the return to work for hospitality workers by providing focused training and up-skilling that reflect the new needs of the hospitality workplace.

Program development benefited from tremendous amounts of insight from employers and employees in the tourism and hospitality sector. One of the first actions we took was to survey industry workers on their major areas of concern regarding the return to work. Dominant themes emerged. Front-of-House and Back-of-House positions, such as servers and cooks are the most in-need, and Business Events and Meetings will see the slowest return, with hotels and venue facilities projecting they won’t return to a full staff contingency until 2022. 

There were strikingly similar needs for both employers and employees when it came to educational topics. COVID-19 Health and Safety, Customer Service, De-escalation of Difficult Customers and Situations, and Digital and Social Media were all top priorities. Hospitality EDGE has been optimized to target these areas of concern, and our five Learning Pillars have been built around these results and the feedback gathered in the survey: Health and Safety, Customer Service, Digital Literacy, Inclusive and Sustainable Tourism, and Resiliency.

Using this knowledge as a guide, we have partnered with various educational content providers and partners in the industry to arrive at a highly curated list of learning resources. Hospitality EDGE offers a variety of learning levels and learning style opportunities, including e-learning, self-directed reading materials, and virtual instructor-led classes. All courses have been carefully selected in order to encompass the program's Learning Pillars, and we believe they offer the best possible educational opportunities for the re-training and up-skilling for workers in our region. Over the next few months, we expect to continue to grow the selection of learning opportunities, filling gaps and expanding options based on feedback from participants. 

With the launch of this new program, you can expect to see activations within our community newsletters, on social media, and a paid marketing push with search and social later this month. We invite you to explore the new website and encourage you to share it with your teams and networks to as many former, current and future hospitality workers as possible. We look forward to the continued growth and expanded course offerings within Hospitality EDGE over the next several months, so make sure to check back regularly for new opportunities.