In 2015, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation embarked on a new grantmaking program in New Orleans, Louisiana, a city blessed with talented people, streets teeming with music and a world-famous cuisine; yet, also a city facing challenges, ranging from declining standards of living to high unemployment to aging infrastructure. Given our founder’s roots in the hospitality industry, the Hilton Foundation chose to focus grantmaking efforts on workforce development opportunities for “disconnected youth,” or young people who are neither attending school nor working in New Orleans.

Since embarking on our funding approach, we have heard the good and the bad of life as a server, cook, banquet manger and hotel IT specialist, but we wanted to look beyond anecdotes to learn more about the hospitality landscape in New Orleans. Our partner, Jobs for the Future (JFF), a nationally recognized workforce organization, dove deep into labor market data in hospitality in Orleans Parish. In addition to developing a landscape on the current “state of the sector,” JFF evaluated and provided recommendations for what could be done to help people advance from entry-level jobs to higher-quality positions that would support them and their families.

In a new report released this month, JFF paints a nuanced picture of the industry. The report found 11,000 intermediate-skill jobs in the New Orleans regional hospitality and tourism industry. These positions require significant on-the-job training (ranging from one month to one year), but no formal postsecondary education. This makes these positions more accessible than traditional “middle-skill” jobs, which require postsecondary education, such as short-term certification or an associate’s degree, which can present a barrier for some youth. When given access to the right education and training, employees may be able to use intermediate-skill jobs as stepping stones along pathways to higher-skill, higher-wage careers.

The report also highlights the work we have ahead to support disconnected youth in this field. A majority of hospitality jobs in the New Orleans region are low-skill and don’t support a minimum standard of living in the region and, unfortunately, hospitality is not the only industry where this is true. Steps can and should be taken to strengthen opportunities for advancement, which might look different across employers.

Fortunately, New Orleans already has a number of collaborative efforts underway to strengthen economic mobility, including the Earn and Learn Career Pathways Program at Tulane University’s Cowen Institute, the unionization of the city’s largest hotel, the city’s first comprehensive development plan spearheaded by the New Orleans Business Alliance, and organizations like the New Orleans Career Center and the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute, where business and education leaders address the needs of skills development in the industry.

Of particular importance to us at the Foundation, the report confirms that hospitality has “low barriers to entry.” People without much work experience can gain valuable skills that have the potential to lead to progressively better positions.

Many of the so-called soft skills that can be learned in hospitality – customer service, teamwork, listening – are not only critical for advancement within the industry, but are directly transferable to other industries.

New Orleans is the third most unequal city in the U.S. among those with a population of 250,000 or more. Through this report, we hope that educators, workforce development organizations, businesses, labor groups, education leaders and funders have the information needed to begin an open, evidence-based discussion on how the hospitality industry can be a place of opportunity with high-quality jobs for everyone.

Hospitality and Tourism in the New Orleans Region

A Labor Market Snapshot

Read the Full Report Here